The Sabbaths and our identity
Just some thoughts I wrote a while back on the connection between the feasts and our identity. Thought it would be nice to share it.
Some time ago while talking with Daniel, I realized the connection between the Sabbaths and our identity. Maybe many of you have already made this connection, but to me it was a light bulb being turned on, so sharing in case it blesses any of you.
A few years ago, while still living in Thailand – and when the feasts weren’t even on my radar – I realized how deficient Christianity was when it came to festivals that bind people together and help to give them a sense of belonging. The church we attended in Thailand paid little to no attention to Christmas, and Easter was non-existent. At the time it frustrated me, because even though I knew those actual dates weren’t sacred, it was all I had. If you took that away, I was left with no special festivals of meaning to me. I watched my Thai Buddhist neighbors celebrating their own festivals, and I remember thinking, why would any of these people ever want to leave this to become a Christian and then have … nothing … to celebrate? Nothing to cement their sense of identity and belonging? I had nothing to invite my Thai friends to, while they had something to invite us to. I watched how the Buddhist festivals weren’t there only for worship, but also for fun, for socializing, and for reinforcing in the people their identity as Thai Buddhists. There are many reasons why it’s hard for a Thai to become a Christian, and this is probably one of them – but this has not even been considered by the majority of Christians.
I remember thinking, we have nothing like this (like the Buddhist festivals), and it’s so nice. Then I thought, well, we have the Sabbath. And we have Communion. But it’s not the same. Sabbath and Communion are very significant, but they’d never given me a sense of belonging; they were just a very personal spiritual experience. Maybe some people enjoy fellowship during those times, but I certainly didn’t. At least in Thailand, Sabbaths were not for fellowship; they were for doing missionary activities. You didn’t just relax and fellowship with people on a Sabbath afternoon; they didn’t seem to see that as an option. And Communion, with so many people crammed in one room, made me just want to get over with it as quickly as possible. In fact, while my children were babies and toddlers, I didn’t even participate. It was just too complicated. And these moments were certainly not something that Buddhist newcomer would find particularly enjoyable.
Then one day, talking with Danny Brown, he told us how Thais could be excited about the feasts. And I thought, of course – these are actual feasts, in which we not only worship together, but also fellowship and bond together as a people. I saw the confirmation of that bonding when we celebrated our first feast in Australia in 2017. Yet for some reason the identity light bulb still didn’t light up in my mind.
Then came this year. Christmas Eve is ideal for family gatherings, since it’s a holiday and people are free to meet. I saw on FB how some devout SDA’s condemned others for doing something special on Christmas Eve. But people who accuse this way are asking their brethren to abandon the only feasts they have – and most sincere Christians (at least within my circles) try to focus on the gift of God through His Son during this time, rather than the other nonsense that comes with Christmas. If you take that away, they have nothing. Nothing! Before asking people to subtract from their lives (if we can even say asking; it was more like demanding), why not offer something they can add?
I still remember the first time I went to observe the Loy Krathong festival (a Thai Buddhist festival) in my village. The atmosphere was very similar to what I remember feeling in my hometown on Christmas Eve. The people wore their best clothes, they were relaxed and happy, and there was a festive touch. I remembered wondering, could it be that God doesn’t want us to have festivals? They’re so nice! They bind people together! They remind us of who we are! Why don’t we have them? At the time I didn’t even know who I was. I wasn’t even toying with the idea of truly believing that I was a child of God.
I had no idea about the feasts then. And since finding out about the feasts, I’ve been more focused on the Sabbath side of things, so much so that I didn’t see the identity side of things until a few months ago. One big reason why God gives us these Sabbaths, New Moons and feast days is because He wants us to be reminded of our identity as His children. And when you think of it, He’s much more generous than any of the other religions are. How many times a month does He give us a chance to be reminded that we’re His beloved children, and that we have a place where we belong? Between Sabbaths and New Moons, that’s 5- 6 times a month. (This is without counting the morning and evening times!) Then we have the mega feasts three times a year. If we lived in a community that celebrated these feasts just like my community celebrated Christmas when I was a child, or just like the Thais celebrate their feasts, then we would be submerged in our identity as children of God and as part of God’s people. And we would certainly have something wonderful to invite our non-believing friends to come and experience.
One of the reasons why I still struggle with the same sins over and over again has to do with my struggle to accept my identity as God’s child. This has been made very obvious to me lately. And this is why God gives us His appointed times. It is so easy for us to see these times as to-do lists – and that’s why so many people reject these feasts. But when I see them as identity sealers, my whole outlook changes. We cannot receive the Spirit of God if we don’t truly believe we are His children – that would be impossible. I now look forward to these times even more than before.