YOU HAVE BEEN UNFAITHFUL...In stark contrast to festive strains of "O Come All Ye Faithful", God voices the exact opposite of what we want to hear this holiday season. It's a powerful lesson of another nation who turned from dependence on God for deliverance and began to rely on their own independent spirit to accomplish the task.
“…And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion…You have been unfaithful.” Ezra 10:9-10.
December 17 on our 2019 Gregorian calendar is the 20th day of God’s 9th month. So we know, for sure, that this is certainly “holy interruption” designed by the Almighty for just such a season as this. In the midst of our appointed “holidays”, which is really just a contraction of “holy” and “days”, we are called to repentance.
The first scripture of this Bible lesson seem to point to the fact that distress appears to be a prerequisite for repentance. Why were they distressed? The Prophet Ezra spoke these words to the chosen people of God in verse 10: “You have been unfaithful…”
Reading the chapter before, Ezra 9, we can see that the nation as a whole had strayed from God’s Word, as they seemed to do over and over. They had slowly but surely melded the practices of the world into the very core of their spiritual and personal lives.
Ezra said this in verses 1-2: “…the leaders came to me and said, ‘The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.’”
It wasn’t just that the wives they had married had an idolatrous mindset. All these man-made deities and the celebrations their mates brought with them became entrenched in the entire family’s personal, social, and religious life. Worst of all, their religious leaders cemented the idolatry deeply into the nation's mindset by not speaking out against it and participating themselves. "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices..."
This lesson is not something that will be popular at all during our “holidays.” But if God has given it as a Bible lesson for this week, we have 2 choices. We can ignore it, like the people of Judah did for a long time. (They eventually fell as a nation) Or we can embrace God’s Word as the truth. As we can see from this lesson, sooner or later, we’re going to recognize that doing things our own way, even while calling on the name of the Lord, only leads to heartache and despair “…all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion.”
Ezra expressed his anguish with the people of God in prayer in verses 5-6: “At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.”
Ezra had not taken part in the idolatry of intermarriage, but we can see from his tense of writing that he has definitely taken on the role of intercessory warrior. There are many of us Christians in America today that feel the same way, especially during this season of Christmas. God Almighty appointed seven holy days, or holidays, over 3500 years ago, and placed them on specific dates on His calendar for mankind to celebrate. Every single one of them is about the appointed times of Jesus. But Christmas just isn’t one of them.
There are Christians who believe that God’s appointed Holy Days were for the nation of Israel, so they could come to know Jesus. But consider that God has appointed three Holy Days that Jesus hasn’t fulfilled yet. And these God-appointed holidays have to do with Trumpets sounding, and Jesus returning to tabernacle with His chosen people. Isn’t that us—ALL of us, that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Being divided over the issue of celebrating Christmas is nothing new. Consider this history of Christmas: "The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston by the early Pilgrims. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.
After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. ”Even before the Civil War, the North and the South were also divided over the issue of Christmas, with most Northerners believing it to have pagan roots, and the Southerners embracing it. Not surprisingly, Alabama became the first state to make it a legal holiday in 1836." (https://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/ch/in_america.htm)
Delve a little further into the Christmas mindset, and consider the history of Santa Claus. He (or “it”) was introduced to most of America through the well-known poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, written in 1822. At that time he was an elf with a miniature sleigh and miniature reindeer. In 1931, Coca Cola began putting up billboards of a human sized Santa with a beard and ruddy complexion, wearing the coke colors of red and white. Of course, they sold lots of Coke that year, and have ever since.
As you can see, we Christians definitely need to question why we’re doing what we’re doing, and NOT doing what we should be doing. Our Christmas spending and celebration is a good place to start. The National Retail Federation predicts during this winter holiday season, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, Americans will spend a mind-boggling 730 BILLION dollars!
According to Christianity Today, 247 million people, approximately 79% of the US, identify as Christian. Applying the 79% to the total projected online retail sales this Christmas season, that’s 576.7 BILLION DOLLARS Christians will spend this year during the Christmas season! Folks, we could divide that further among 40 million or so people in this country living in poverty and give EACH ONE $14,417.50. Or we could divide it among the 70.8 million refugees in the world and give EACH ONE $8145,48.
So, where does all this leave us? Perhaps we will begin to question why we spend unfathomable amounts on Santas, trees, gifts and decorations and celebrations-- and church plays and productions, all considered “normal”. Look up the word “normal”. It means “conforming to the standard”. Could it be that another god has slowly been insinuating himself into our “normal” Christian lives every single year, and now we just can’t live without him?
Most of us Christians rationalize that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus and that is important and makes everything okay. But who is it really important to? If it is so important to the Good Lord that we do so, why didn’t he appoint a holiday in His Word for the birth of Jesus? He appointed the holiday of Passover for the death of Jesus, Unleavened Bread for His burial, and Firstfruits for His resurrection, and Trumpets and Tabernacles for Jesus' 2nd coming. Did He forget something? Are we now guilty of adding to His Word to help Him out?
Yes, this is a big mess we Christians have gotten ourselves into. The leaders of Judah began investigating the same mess they were in on the first day of the 10th month, which would be around December 28 on our 2019 calendar. For 2 months, they dug into the heart of the matter, and how far reaching it actually was. Bottom line was the Israelite men had gone outside of God’s Word, and not only entered adulterous personal relationships, but every area of their life had been tainted.
In the end, there was only one solution and it was an extremely hard one to face and required drastic action. They needed to confess their sin, repent and depart from it and everything that it had bred, including some of their own sons and daughters. One of the Israelite men put it like this: “...We have been unfaithful to God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. Despite this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children in accordance with the counsel of my Lord…” Ezra 10:2-3.
What God wants from His people will never change. He desires a Bride who is faithful to her Bridegroom. And whether we’ve committed adultery with the Spirit of Christmas or Santa himself, adultery is adultery.
But God has always been a God of mercy, love and grace. He has definitely shown us that through His gift of His son, Jesus. So, while it’s true that we don’t know for sure when Christ was really born, it’s also true that it could have been December 25.
But before that fact can even be considered, in the eyes of the Almighty there must be genuine distress and repentance in the heart of the believer in Jesus Christ. We have attempted to add to God's Word and to His Holy Calendar which appoints and anoints the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself on this Earth.
It must be a profound and sincere repentance. Ezra’s closing words in Chapter 9 should be our words today. “Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
YOU HAVE BEEN UNFAITHFUL...