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The Best Valentine Gift

Remember the former things, those of long ago;

I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me.

Isaiah 46:9


I find it strange how some religious holidays have morphed into mainstream culture with no resemblance to their original intent. For example…

In the early part of the 8th century, Pope Gregory III established All Saints Day to honor the saints known only to God. This holiday was to be officially observed on November 1—between All Hallow’s Eve on October 31 (a day to remember the dead) and All Souls Day on November 2 (a day to pray for the those who are in purgatory awaiting admittance into heaven). Today, few people recognize October 31 as a holy evening, which is the meaning of hallow’s eve. Instead, Halloween is highlighted by masks and costumes, tricks and treats, skeletons and vampires. I’m sure Pope Gregory would be appalled.


Then there’s Christmas. In 336 A.D., Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the date to commemorate the birth of Jesus. This date coincided with the winter solstice that was already celebrated in various ways by other cultures. Rome had Saturnalia, a week-long food and drink-fest to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. Germans hid from the god Oden, who made nocturnal flights to select people to prosper or perish in the new year. In Austria children were taught to hide from a sinister elf who doled out punishment for bad behavior. And in Scandinavia people celebrated Yule by setting large logs or entire trees on fire—often inside the house. Merge these and other traditions together for our current Christmas holiday with roaring fires, elves, and a flying Santa who looks for good boys and girls.    


And then there’s Valentine’s Day. At least ten saints are named Valentine, so it’s unclear if the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers is actually one and the same person. Legend hints that a priest named Valentine secretly performed wedding ceremonies during the 3rd century to prevent Christian men from conscription into the pagan army. Valentine may have also initiated the practice of gifting loved ones with paper hearts. Pope Gelasius I established the holiday to commemorate the saint who supposedly was martyred on February 14, 269 A.D. By the 17th century, Valentine cards were being mass produced so that the prim and proper classes could share their true feelings without having to speak a word. And the tradition continues.


I have nothing against any of these holidays. I like holidays—especially when they’re accompanied by a paid day off! But how did our Christian holidays become so commercialized? It reminds me of the story of Josiah in 2 Kings, chapter 22.


In the 18th year of his reign, Josiah sent his officials to the high priest to retrieve the money that would be used to pay for temple repairs. In addition to the funds, the high priest handed over the Book of the Law, which apparently had been missing for more than 50 years while the people worshipped false gods. When king Josiah heard the words from the book, he tore his robes and gave this order to the priest: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book. They have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13).


We don’t know the exact passage King Josiah read, but perhaps it came from Deuteronomy 28. “If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees … all these curses will come upon you and overtake you … The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you … fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew … The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder … The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies… Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth … Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it … The sights you see will drive you mad.” You get the picture. It's rather devastating.


I don’t believe our loving God will punish us for celebrating Valentine’s Day with bouquets of roses or by overindulging on chocolates, but I do believe we injure ourselves when we forget to honor the giver of all good gifts. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).


This morning, I gave my husband a mushy Valentine’s Day card (Hallmark will not go bankrupt while I’m alive), and in it I wrote, “I thank God for you.” I wrote some other stuff too, but I wanted to give credit to God for the wonderful marriage we share. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).


Instead of going out for a fancy dinner tonight, Greg and I will attend an Ash Wednesday service. It’s not often that these two holidays fall on the same day, but what a way to celebrate God’s love for us and our love for each other.


THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Love Has a Name by Jesus Culture.

Favorite lyric: “Love has a name: Jesus.”


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