BY BRIAN JACK - FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH
Usually we think of Christmas Eve worship services as one of the most attended of the year, but it wasn’t always so. All-Hallows-Eve or Halloween as it is commonly known today used to be one of the most attended worship services of the year. It was (and still is) the evening before All Saints Day, Nov. 1. In fact the reformer Martin Luther is thought to have posted the 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517, sparking the reformation of the Christian church. Imagine someone plastering a sign on the entryway to the church building on Christmas Eve. Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, challenging many of the teachings of the church, on the church building doors for All-Hallows-Eve may have had a similar effect. It was an effective way to get a lot of people’s attention.
One of the fundamental reforms to come out of that time is that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). You are saved from sin, death and evil by God’s grace alone. It is a priceless gift that is freely given to you.
When it comes to how a Christian understands gift giving – our culture reflects a much better example at Halloween than at Christmas. At Christmas the idea of “gift exchanges” are fostered. If you give a gift, often you can anticipate you’ll be getting a gift. Many a Christmas morning has been spoiled by family members arguing that one member of the family received more or less than the others. Even all the Santa Claus lore suggests that jolly Old St. Nick is quite the score keeper. “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake!” You know the drill. Shape up. Do good. Be good. Earn that nice gift or else it’s a lump of coal for you.
Halloween has no shortage of its own seasonal hang-ups. However, its gift-giving culture seems more in tune with how Jesus intended to give gifts. On Halloween in my neighborhood, kids of all ages go door to door. They knock. The door is opened. Gifts are given. Sometimes words are exchanged, sometimes not. There’s no checking to see if they’ve been good or bad. Nothing is asked or expected in return for the gift that is given. Everyone who comes gets a gift (at least until we run out at our house).
Maybe All-Hallows-Eve isn’t one of your favorite holidays like it is mine. Even so, it’s a great time to remember on the eve of All Saints Day that the source of what makes you a saint has nothing to do with your behavior and everything to do with God’s behavior. You have a God who is eager to give you everything you need for this life and the one to come. Or as Jesus put it, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Luke 11:9-10.