One imagines that there were more than a few Israelites who considered the prophet Isaiah a kill-joy and something of a Scrooge. It was a time of celebration, a festive occasion, a religious holiday even, and there was the prophet, barging into their good times to deliver a message from God.
“When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?” (Isaiah 1:12; NKJV)
God, the prophet declared, was fed up with the holiday celebrations.
Now, some knowledgeable wag might have reminded Isaiah that it was God Himself who had commanded the festive celebrations at the temple; surely it was not wrong to remember what God had done in the way God had told them to?
But the prophet’s message was not done: “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:13-14; NKJV)
There was the problem: God could not bear holy worship and celebration mixed with a life of iniquity.
But all was not hopeless; the people could change. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;” said the Lord, “Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good…” (Isaiah 1:16-17a; NKJV)
Isaiah’s message was not unique. Micah and Hosea, who were both contemporaries of Isaiah had similar messages delivered to them by the Lord. In the same context of worship and celebration, Micah declared, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8; NKJV) Likewise Hosea was told by God: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6; NKJV)
The question arises, concerning gift-giving: what do you give the person who already has everything? This question becomes even more difficult when it comes to God, who, being self-sufficient, literally needs nothing we can give Him, and, being the Creator, most certainly needs none of our material goods or possessions. These are both points God Himself makes to us about Himself (cf. Acts 17:24-25; Psalm 50:9-11)
Despite this, there are a considerable number of people who think of God as a beggarly sort of individual, satisfied with their meager crumbs. If they remember God occasionally, perhaps once or twice a year during celebrations, they calculate that God must be pleased. If they stop their sinning long enough to give lip-service to high-ideals like love, peace, and joy; they think to themselves they have done something grand, and God must be satisfied.
That was, apparently what the inhabitants of Israel thought all those years ago as they gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate their high and holy feast days. But God was fed up with the people, and a semi-annual celebration was not going to erase their wickedness, nor sate God’s desire for a proper relationship with His people.
Times change; celebrations change; traditions change; but the nature of humanity seems fairly constant. God too, is unchanging in His desires.
What do you give the Creator who has everything?
You give Him what He asks for; which is your life as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. (cf. Romans 12:1-2) If you have sin in your life, God wants you to repent and find forgiveness for that sins.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18; NKJV)
What does God want from you during the Holidays?
Feasts, sacrifices, gifts, celebrations?
No. Quite simply, He wants what He has always wanted. He wants you to actually listen and obey Him.
It is for this reason that the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us, not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.