“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”(Romans 14:5–8 NIV11-GK)
In many countries, Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday of the year. It recognizes an event that took place over 2000 years ago which changed the world. For most people in these countries, Christmas becomes an important celebration already from their childhood, but for those of us who grew up in the Soviet Union, we only heard about it for the first time after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
The Soviet government eliminated all faith in God to such a great extent that as a child I was taught to instead adore Lenin as a godlike figure and to cherish the ideals of communism. Christmas was replaced by our New Year celebration which became the most important holiday of the year. During the New Year, we also decorated a tree but instead of placing a star of Bethlehem or an angel on its top, a red star (a symbol of Soviet power) was to shine at the highest point. We exchanged gifts and were encouraged to rejoice in the hopes that the New Year would be better than the previous one. It was only many years after my childhood when I learned that many countries with millions of people celebrated Christmas in December. However, this only began to have significance to me, once I gave my life to Christ.
When I initially moved to Israel, I found that neither the New Year nor Christmas was celebrated here. Instead, Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Renewal or the Feast of Light, is celebrated nationwide. Although we do not find the holiday stated in Tanakh, the events associated with it are well described in the books of Maccabees 1 and 2.This brought up a dilemma within me. What was to be celebrated? Should the past be abandoned (New Year)? Should the present be embraced (celebrating and rejoicing at the birth of our Savior)? Or, were we to embrace our Jewish heritage (celebrating only the Israeli holidays)? I was not alone in having these questions, as many of those who made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel faced the same uncertainty.
My initial inclination was to ensure I would not become a stumbling block for those around me in the sense that I would be setting an example for celebrating things that are not related to our people. However, over time it became clear to me that what I considered a stumbling block was an opportunity to carry and present the good news of the Gospel.Currently, many Israelis celebrate the New Year. Why would they do this? My personal opinion is that they simply want a reason to celebrate. However, I’ve also found that because of this quite a few Israelis are very interested in learning about Christmas.Across the street from our congregation is a Lutheran Church where every Christmas Eve a concert is held using a beautifully played organ to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It would seem that this would be foreign to local Jews and mostly avoided, but every year the church is packed to the brim with people. Most of those in attendance are not Christians or tourist, but rather native Israelis who want to listen to beautiful music. This became an excellent opportunity for us to tell them about their Messiah who came to the world 2000 years ago.For the past couple of years, we have invited hundreds of people to Beit Immanuel after the concerts to enjoy a cup of hot tea and some biscuits. Those who accept the invitation end up learning that Christians celebrate the birth of their Jewish Messiah, which the Torah, the prophets, and the Scriptures all prophesy about! This is a wonderful way for us to testify of our Jewish Messiah to His people and the most appropriate way for Messianic Jews to relate to this holiday.Preaching through holidays is not something new to us. In Jewish tradition, every Jewish holiday is used to preach God’s word. And we believe that if a foreign holiday such as Christmas can attract so many Israelis, then how many more people will have a desire to come and celebrate with us one of the greatest of Jewish holidays, Passover, the feast of the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. This holiday is filled with references to our Messiah. An innocent lamb sacrificed in Passover is a reference to Christ, as is expressed in John 1:29 “The next day John sees Jesus coming to him and says: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”This year we would like to celebrate this wonderful holiday in our congregation and invite nonbelievers to attend. This will give us the opportunity, through the symbolism of the established rites, to show the true meaning of this holiday and ultimately share Christ with them.Please pray with us that the Lord will lead the way for us to do this. Pray for God’s protection, for God to open the hearts of those who come, and for God’s provision and wisdom to be poured over us so that we may organize this event.
With love in Christ Jesus,Beit Immanuel Congregation