Putting Belief Back in Christmas: Reflections on Esther

At this time of year, we see “Believe” hanging on mantles and stamped on shopping bags. But belief requires an object—God. The Bible advocates for us always directing our speech at God, even when things seem most dire. In this regard, belief without the object of God, is ironic—tragically comedic even.

The book of Esther is likewise comedic about its own society. It opens with lavish scenes that outdo The Great Gatsby. According to Bible commentator Adele Berlin, there are 10 parties in the book of Esther. This book is extravagant—and for a reason. We are meant to see the excess and laugh at its absurdity, similar to how we can laugh at the ridiculousness of "marketing Christmas."

The pressure of Christmas has a way of turning small matters into crises, while we ignore the big matter of forgetting about Jesus on the holiday about his birth. The book of Esther represents a parallel problem. As Adele Berlin also points out, King Ahasuerus makes small matters, like Queen Vashti not appearing at his party in the way he wishes, into state affairs. And Ahasuerus does so while treating major state affairs, like the future of the Jewish people, as issues that someone else can handled (passing of his signet ring to other men).

The book of Esther prompts us to laugh at Persian society, not as mockers, but as people, like the characters in the story, who believe that we can change it. We can change our own society too. This is the very power of belief, in the God whom we trust.

And at this time of year in the U.S., our society gets a little ridiculous too. There are parts of it that are so wonderful. And other parts that are heartbreaking: Is this what Christmas is really all about, we think? Where is Christ in Christ-mas, we ask?

And like our society often doesn’t mention God at all, neither does the book of Esther. This is a book that is almost secular. And all for a reason, in my opinion: Rather than mention God, Esther is showing us the God written all over our lives, even when we don’t mention him by name.

Ultimately, Esther ends up being the hero who saves her people from destruction. But before this happens, we wrestle with the tension of the story—will the people be saved, we wonder? And where is God in the midst of all this, we ask?

I think we see God right in Mordecai’s line:

“For if indeed you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, and you and the family of your father will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to a royal position for a time such as this” (Esther 4:14 LEB).

This same idea about belief is captured well by the author of Hebrews:

“But we are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but among those who have faith to the preservation of our souls. Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen. For by this the people of old were approved. By faith we understand the worlds were created by the word of God, in order that what is seen did not come into existence from what is visible” (Hebrews 10:39–11:3 LEB).

God appoints us to specific places, for specific reasons. Belief requires that we see those reasons. Belief looks for how God is using us. Belief sees no action as useless. And belief also looks for opportunities to act.

Belief looks for opportunities to serve others. When God's people are saved in the book of Esther, they initiate the festival of Purim to commemorate the deliverance. As part of this festival, they serve the impoverished (Esther 9:23). We should do the same at this time of year: Look to the God whom we love, asking him how he would have us to serve the impoverished, requesting that he show us the way forward to truly loving others.

Belief is about action on God's behalf. Belief is hope in God. And belief works toward our hope in God being realized, right here, right now. What is God appointing you to do? How can restoring belief to this Christmas season change your perspective?

 

Want to get involved in serving the impoverished now? Join Jesus' Economy in renewing Bihar, India, one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.

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This article is based on a sermon I delivered at The Table. Many of the ideas are based on Adele Berlin's Jewish Publication Society Commentary on Esther.




John Barry
John Barry

Author

CEO, President, and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the author/coauthor of 12 books and General Editor of Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary.



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