Celebrate Old Testament style

Published 1:11 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

by Andrew Book

Most people who grew up in a Christian tradition grew up thinking that the Old Testament (the part of the Bible that predates Jesus) is full of wrath and vengeance and a God who is not very happy. For some reason, many Christians have embraced the idea that the “Old Testament God” is kind of a grumpy old man.

There are many problems with this view, such as realizing God isn’t really an old man, or grumpy or that there is no such thing as the “Old Testament God” who is any different than who God is as shown to us by Jesus in the New Testament. All of those questions deserve their own column, but today I want to invite you to rethink how God related to people in the Old Testament and what that can teach us about the places in life God wants to meet us today.

Sacrifices were an important part of how people worshipped God in the Old Testament, but the picture that many of us have in our mind of what an “Old Testament sacrifice” looks like is very different than the reality of what God invited the people to take part in.

For many years, every time I heard about a sacrifice, I pictured an offering being placed on the altar and then burned to a crisp — until it was just gone — kind of like those hamburgers that you put on the grill and forgot about until two hours later. There are times where God called for a “whole burnt offering” like this, but those were not the only acts of worship God’s people made through sacrifice.

Instead, many times God’s people were invited to come before God with a thanksgiving offering or a freewill offering to celebrate something beautiful God had done in their lives.

These sacrifices involved giving a portion to God as an act of worship, and then sitting down and feasting on the rest of the offering. The instructions for the offering tell the worshippers that they are supposed to stay in the temple, in God’s presence, and eat the entire offering with friends and family.

In today’s world, where meals of abundance are commonplace, this instruction may not make much sense. However, in the ancient world where people often went hungry, coming into God’s presence to offer an animal as way of a thanking God for God’s goodness meant a feast and celebration that was not an everyday event. God created a system for sacrifices that required God’s people to feast together with God. God wanted us to celebrate and God wanted to be a part of that celebration.

If you are still reading at this point, you are probably wondering why I am sharing all this with you. The reason is this: too often we think God is a stoic who is only interested in grim faces and strict morals, yet we see from the beginning of how God set up worship that God was creating times for us to celebrate with God and with others.

If you continue reading in the Old Testament, you will find that there are a variety of feasts that God wants the people to celebrate each year — not simply as a religious ritual, but as true times of celebration. This pattern continues with Jesus himself whose first miracle is turning water to wine so that a wedding celebration can continue uninterrupted. Scripture is quick to point out that there are times in life worth celebrating — and God invites us to celebrate with thankfulness recognizing that every good gift comes from God.

So, as we enter the month of Thanksgiving, and begin what is widely called the “holiday season,” know that you are invited to celebrate with God and those around you. Feast, party and be thankful for the bounty of the earth, for Christ’s birth at Christmas, for a New Year, and for those other things that we have to be thankful for. As you celebrate, remember the author of all those good gifts and remember to invite God to the party!

As we worship over the next several months at Courtland United Methodist Church, there will be a lot of times of celebration. Worship is not always celebration — sometimes worship involves questions, mourning, teaching and crying out to God — but this is a season of celebration. So, if you are looking to celebrate you are welcome to come celebrate with us!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.