Three unrelated yet intrinsically connected things – Christmas, Communion and a golden calf. The connection, however, may not be readily apparent. A closer look is needed to discover what connects Christmas, Communion and a golden calf. As it turns out, the answer is “memory” or the lack thereof, that is the connection among the three. Now Christmas and Communion are both rituals of remembrance. The first remembers and celebrates Jesus’s birth, the latter remembers and celebrates Jesus’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection three days later. Celebrating Christmas and observing Communion help me to remember Jesus’s birth, life and death every time I participate in said celebrations.
But why is this important? Why is it so important for me and for you to remember what God has done? Because if I don’t remember, I will forget. Now this seems all too obvious and begs the question “what’s so bad about forgetting?” After all, we all forget things from time to time, don’t we? Well, I submit to you, dear readers that the danger in forgetting what God has done is that when I forget, bad things happen. When I forget, I am in danger of ending up dancing in the desert while worshiping a golden calf.
Sound impossible? It’s not that far-fetched. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites shortly after God rescued them from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to cross on dry ground as they fled from the Egyptian army. And then for good measure, God released the sea and it flowed back together, drowning the Egyptians caught in its waters as they pursued the Israelites. God saved the Israelites from their enemies and certain death with this miracle of momentous proportions – something never before seen or experienced. Yet just a short time later, these same people seem to have forgotten God altogether, turned away from Him and were now worshiping a golden calf that they had made from the very gold that God had moved the Egyptians to give to them. They had turned God’s gift to them into an idol.
They were worshiping the gift instead of the Giver of the gift. They gave their God given inheritance up to be made into an idol, rather than used for God’s glory. Just as Esau sold his birthright for mere food, the Israelites forfeited their inheritance in order to make a golden calf. They had forgotten all God had done for them in such a short time, with disastrous results.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ ‘ ” (Exodus 32:7-8)
Wow! They were receiving manna every morning, being led by a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night to give light in the darkness of the desert, and water from a rock – all gifts of sustaining provision from Almighty God – and they would rather bow down to an inanimate golden calf statue?
Am I any different than the Israelites in the desert? How soon do I forget God’s goodness to me, His faithfulness, His never ending mercy, His constant watch care and provision? And when I forget all God has done, when I forget all His good gifts to me – then I forget to be grateful. I no longer count my blessings and give God the thanks due to Him alone. When I am no longer grateful, I become discontent, dissatisfied, doubting God’s goodness and desiring (like Eve) something other than what He has given me. When I forget God’s goodness, I forget to be grateful – I become envious, resentful, bitter. I complain to God instead of thanking Him.
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.” (Psalm 107:21-22)
If I forget all God has done in the past, my faith falters, doubt enters in and takes root where once faith flourished. With doubt, comes its companion, fear. Fear and doubt separate me from my Creator, whereas the memories of all He has done for me in the past bind me closer to Him. But when I forget God’s goodness to me, I become disconnected, adrift, directionless, searching for something or someone to take His place. It proves to be a fruitless pursuit, because no one can fill God’s place in my life, not even a golden calf. Idols are poor substitutes for the Living God. I think the Israelites found that out the hard way.
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” (Psalm 107:13-16)
Yes, they cried out and God delivered the Israelites from their enemies time and time again. But each time, they forgot. They forgot what God had done – how He had rescued and restored them. Then they forgot to be grateful. Then they became dissatisfied with God and ended up worshiping inanimate idols. That’s what happens when we forget. That’s why it’s so important to remember.
“Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” (Psalm 103:2-6)
“Forget not all His benefits” – meaning God’s good gifts. That’s good advice considering God’s gifts are priceless. The prophet Micah said this about God –
“Who is a God like You who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)
When I remember God’s faithfulness and all His promises to me, I am filled with hope, a hope that sustains me through every circumstance, no matter how difficult, no matter how desperate.
” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)
When I forget God’s promises and His faithfulness, I lose hope and gain despair. (not really a good trade)
When I forget who God is – I forget who I am. I forget I am His child, created in His image. I lose my identity.
When I forget God’s truth – I believe satan’s lies.
When I forget God’s character and my history with Him – I lose my trust, my direction, my purpose, my courage –
When I forget that God loves me, forgives me and accepts me – I fail to love, forgive and accept others
Christmas and Communion remind me of the extraordinary lengths to which God went to redeem me and to redeem you. Just how far did God go? He left heaven and came to earth, taking on our human form, even being born as a helpless baby. Philippians describes it this way saying that Jesus –
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
To what lengths did Jesus go for you and for me?
“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient in death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)
Jesus traveled through eternity to step into our world. He went to the manger and He went to the cross. I need to remember both His miraculous birth and His sacrificial death. Because when I forget, I become separated from God and nothing good happens then. I might even end up dancing in the desert worshiping a golden calf. God has a much better plan for me than that. I just have to remember – remember what He’s already done. That’s what Christmas and Communion do – they help me remember to what extraordinary lengths He went in order to save me.
“be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)
God set me free, too. And that is not something I want to forget. He came to set the captives free and He did just that.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
sincerely, Grace Day