Today, Monday, September 5, we in the United States, are celebrating “Labor Day.” According to the United States Department of Labor, this special labor day is defined this way:
“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
While we could sit around arguing about how strong, prosperous, or well our country is right now, (as our two presidential election opponents do on a daily basis), my goal for today’s discussion is not a political one but a biblical one. How could I turn Labor Day into a biblical discussion? Stick with me and you’ll find out!
From its first day of celebration on September 5, 1882, Labor Day has been a man-centered, man-devised, and man-focused holiday. It was founded to celebrate a “workingman’s holiday.” Peter J. McGuire, a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, noted that it was a day set aside specifically to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." (Hmm, it sounds to me as though he’s leaving an important Person out the delving and carving, but we’ll get to that point later.)
As the Department of Labor writes on their website concerning Labor Day,
“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take
was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit
to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor
organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation
and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern
for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women
were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and
civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American
Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day
was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational
aspects of the labor movement.”
Did you catch that last sentence? Re-read it, slowly. “Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.” Suddenly, the recognition of man and his labors and accomplishments has eked into Sunday—a day set aside to recognize and praise God for His labor, creation, and accomplishments. And not only is it just a day of gratitude and recognition but a day dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement. The spiritual and educational aspects. Suddenly we’ve gone from a nice day of recognition to usurping a day dedicated to God. And over one hundred years later, the day has devolved from paying much attention to the laborers and making a lot of them work that day at the mall to satisfy the unquenchable demands of a society addicted to shopping and sales. (I doubt that most of the hoards roaming the shopping plazas on Labor Day could even define “labor” to you, or the significance of the day.)
But my question is: Why did (or do) we need a Labor Day when we have (or had) all of the marvelous feasts, festivals, and time off that God laid out for us in His word? When did we decide we could discard all of those holidays and then devise one of our own that pales in comparison to His? For just an overview, here is a list of the feast and festival days typically celebrated in a Jewish year:
In the spring you have:
Feast of Passover – usually March or April
Feast of Unleavened Bread – usually March or April
Feast of Firstfruits – 50 days after Passover; usually April
Feast of Weeks – usually May or June
Then in the fall you celebrate:
Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year in September or October
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) – usually September or October
Feast of Tabernacles – late September to mid-October
Then there are:
Hannukah – sometimes November, but usually December
Purim – February or March
The Seventh Day Holiday or Sabbath – every week
Rosh Hodesh (“The Beginning of the Month”—the celebration of new beginnings as the New Moon appears in the sky.)
Each of these holidays is God-centered, God-worshipping, redeeming, and educational. Each has a purpose, meant to remind people of the One who keeps them in their ways and provides for them. And if celebrated properly, the feasts don’t improperly tempt you or get you into trouble! (Can anyone say St. Patrick’s Day!?)
My first thought is: Boy, God sure did encourage His people to feast and celebrate! My second thought is: Why don’t we celebrate like this now?
“Oh, Andrea, but we do!” you say.
I know. We have our holidays. We’ve taken the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah and substituted a one-day Christmas celebration that generally revolves around gorging on material goods, food, and televised football.
Then we have the ever-uplifting Halloween celebration that celebrates suggestively, scantily, or ridiculously clad adults over drinking at bars or costume parties, and little tykes scouring the neighborhoods in their “cute” costumes, begging the neighbors for candy. (For all of the things wrong with Halloween, see my post: http://brokenheartsredeemed.blogspot.com/2013/10/is-halloween-so-harmless.html)
Somehow, these all seem like weak, life-sucked-out-of-the-original-holiday-and-feast substitutes.
I guess my point is that we wouldn’t need man-made holidays like Labor Day if we had just stuck with the originals. If we had chosen the best. If we had just followed in the “ancient ways” we wouldn’t need to create our own feeble ones. God knew we needed rest from our labors, so He wisely gave us a day to really rest, which most people now ignore. He knew we’d wander off into different pastures (often made with artificial turf), so He gave us a lot of reasons to stick close to home and enjoy the bounty there. But because we are humans, we think we can devise better ways. We make up human holidays that the product producers and shopping malls turn into consumption and waste days. Instead of resting and feasting, we wear ourselves out spending and losing, and coming away dissatisfied and disillusioned.
So far the new man-made ways don’t seem to be working as well as the old, God-made ones. Maybe it’s time to discard those old ways and ask Him what He knows about life and living. And put His best ways into practice.
Maybe that’s something to think about and meditate on this Labor Day.
If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating biblical holidays, and maybe incorporate some of them into your worship and family studies, I recommend the following references:
~ Judaism 101 at http://www.jewfaq.org
~ A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays: with activities for all ages by Robin Sampson and Linda Pierce (This book contains a Special Home School Unit Study called “Heart of Wisdom”. Our family used this great book for biblical study; it contains great activities for the kids and is packed with information!) It’s currently available on Amazon.com.
Next Monday we’ll be returning to our study of peace!
Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!
When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer