We are in the Autumn festival cycle. Designed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and of Jesus—these Fall feasts and holy days provide principles that can change the way we live. That is our subject.
Let's begin with Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the following ten days (called the High Holy Days, or Ten Days of Awe) which culminate with the Day of Atonement. The first lesson we can learn from these ten Days of Awe that precede the Day of Atonement is the importance of walking in the light the holiness of the God of Israel, our Father. Pagan culture celebrates a new year with noisy revelry and insane celebrations. In contrast, the spiritual new year of Jesus' Bible is a time for serious reflection upon the meaning of life. Yes, there are notes of celebration. But they are based upon the character and graciousness of the Creator, evidenced by the world he made for us. The head of the year serves to commemorate and celebrate Adam and Eve's birthday. It's a time in which you focus on God as creator and ruler of the universe. As such it is a solemn, thoughtful time dedicated to concentrating on and confronting one's mortality. It is a time to reflect upon the meaning of our life. Is it all emptiness and vanity? Is there substance and value? This festival has many different names but one that is very important to note here because it characterizes the tonality of this portion of the symphony; it is called the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin). It is meant to be a time in which you are aware of the reality of God's judgment. Are you going to be in the book of life? In fact, the central image that undergirds this day is the idea of a trial. The Holy One of Israel is the judge and your life hangs in the balance. You are in the scales of the king of the universe and He is evaluating you. Is your life worthwhile? Is it a life of righteousness, peace, and joy? Or is it a life of self-centeredness and sin? In our cultures, both civil and religious, God's exalted status is so diminished while human status is exalted, there is no longer any distinction between the two. Biblically, to speak of God's holiness means His distinctiveness, his absolute otherness. He is separate and marked off from all that is ordinary and common. Trumpets, as the head of the spiritual new year, can help us know before whom we stand. Walking in the light of God's holiness leads us to the second lesson to learn from these appointed times; our need to walk in the light of repentance. "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." (Isaiah 1:16-17) Remember, the prophet Isaiah had an intense encounter with the holiness of God. The lesson he learned is that of repentance. The biblical picture of repentance is two-fold; to cease doing what is wrong and commence doing what is right. Repentance is more than remorse, an important lesson that most of the church needs to hear. Repentance is more than kneeling and weeping at the altar while someone comes around to offer a tissue and comfort you. Repentance is not having a good cry only to walk out still in rebellion and self-centeredness. Judas was filled with remorse, but he did not repent. Yes, repentance is accompanied by emotions but it is more than that. It is a decision to stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right— with the help of God. It is a confrontation with and a confession of wrongdoing. It is a determination to start doing right. These ten holy days of awe and reverence are characterized by repentance. The ancient traditions of Israel that even pre-date Jesus have much to say about repentance. For instance, they identify two levels of repentance, the first is out of fear and the next is out of love. We are to repent out of fear in recognition that God is holy and that sin offends Him. Sin must be taken seriously, sin is a violation of God's Law, God's standards. Yet there is also a repentance out of love, a motivation even deeper and higher than that of fear. Repentance out of love is a deep yearning to imitate God, to do what God does. A desire to be holy, because he is holy; to be conformed to His image rather than trying to conform Him to our image. For centuries and still today, devout Jewish people practice an intentional time of seeking both forgiveness and restitution during the Fall Feasts. There is a Jewish saying that is reflected in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, "Who does God, blessed be he, forgive? He who has forgiven." Start with those closest to you, your spouse, your children, your coworkers, your fellow saints. It doesn't come easy, but when it's done you will experience the blessed nearness of your God.