Some people just don’t like Halloween. I can understand why. Its pagan roots. The frenzy for candy. Yet another American form of consumerism. I get it.
But I love Halloween. Dressing up is fun — and most of us adults just need to lighten up a bit and enjoy some childlike fun. It’s the one day of the year where we allow people to invade the well-defended privacy of our homes, letting them knock on our doors and ask us for stuff. Really. Think about that for a bit. The basic American attitude toward our homes is so anti-community, so isolated and alone.
We need days like Halloween to break cracks into our lack of connection with our neighbors.
A few years ago, a bunch of our neighbors gathered together at one of our homes for soup and other good food before setting out with the kids to do their candy blitz. Some neighbors brought their fire pits out front. One provided coffee. Some friends gave away steaming slices of banana bread to chaperoning parents. I got a chance to see neighbors I’d met and introduce myself to other neighbors my kids had met. And along with the words “Trick or treat,” I heard another pair of words over and over and over again: “Thank you.” All of the commercializing hadn’t dulled the basic human response to generosity: thankfulness. (Which sounds like good preparation for another over-commercialized up-coming American holiday …)
But one of the things I noticed was that a few of the larger churches in our city had chosen to take a different approach to Halloween. They gathered in their buildings for harvest parties.
Now, harvest parties are well-attested to in the Scriptures (Sukkot or Feast of Booths, which is associated with the Day of Atonement and remembering the days of living in tents during the Exodus). But these harvest parties had nothing to do with Sukkot. They were what Dan Steigerwald calls “extractional” events. They extract the people of God from the relationships and community events that God has placed us in. They pull us out exactly when we most need to be stepping in.
The opposite of being extractional is being incarnational. Instead of pulling us out of our circumstances, in the Incarnation, Jesus entered into our human circumstances — all of them. Instead of staying aloof, he “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).
Jesus spent time in the homes of notorious sinners. He befriended prostitutes. He was known for his wine-drinking and his love for eating lots of food (Luke 7:34). One woman was so touched by his willingness to enter into her world and love her despite her shameful lifestyle that she actually wept on his feet and then dried the tears off with her hair (see Luke 7:36-50).
Think about that for a bit. Have you ever seen anyone weep like that in your entire life? I haven’t. Never. I’ve seen tears of grief and tears of joy at reunion. But I’ve never seen such tears of gratitude for someone loving them when they didn’t deserve it. But because of Jesus entering into the world — into my world — I ought know that kind of gratitude personally.
Those kinds of tears only take place when love enters into your world (including your shame) and turns it all upside down. And that’s why God sends his people into the world, not wanting us to huddle up in our church buildings, but to step into the homes and lives of our neighbors and love them right there.
Yes, there are times to hang out in our church buildings. But there are times to get out there and hang out with the neighbor kids in their crazy costumes.