Saturday, February 28, 2015

Of Purim and Imaginary Gorillas...

When I was a kid, my Mom used an expression, “the whole megillah.” If someone cleaned their plate, she’d say, “they ate the whole megillah.” If an event was a big deal she might say, “they had a band, decorations, food— the whole megillah.” In my child-mind, I thought that somehow she was referring to Magilla Gorilla, a cartoon I had often seen on TV. Therefore, to me, the whole Magilla meant something very large, because Magilla was very large. Hey, I was a was the only Magilla I knew of.

It was years later that I discovered my error. Megillah is Hebrew for scroll, which is how Scripture was written down originally. The expression the whole megillah comes from the celebration of the feast of Purim. And Purim was inaugurated at the end of an amazing story of a rescue of an entire people group from certain death.

Esther was a Jewish orphan God raised from obscurity to serve a key role in saving her people from the clutches of a wicked, anti-Semitic politician. The story is a real pot boiler. It has everything—poor, but beautiful girl who rises to the top of her society; court intrigue; ambitious courtiers; fancy dinner parties; jealousy, revenge, betrayal—even casting lots or pur to determine the best day for the Jewish people to die. But it is also a story of repentance, sacrificial intercession and conquering love, which leads to a great victory at the end.

Tradition decrees that Purim be celebrated with great rejoicing. It is not one of the Feasts of the Lord, but finding that you’ve escaped annihilation does seem a very good reason for a party! The Jewish people have encountered many ‘Hamans’ over the years who have tried to eliminate them. So Purim has become a memorial of all the times God has rescued them from destruction.

Purim is often celebrated as a masquerade party, complete with masks. Attendees might come dressed as Esther, Mordecai, King Xerxes or even the bad guy, Haman. Purim skits are sometimes performed. Part of the celebration is an interactive reading of the entire book of Esther—the whole megillah—while the party-goers participate with cheers, boos, hisses and noise makers, called groggers. Tradition dictates that when Haman’s name is read, enough noise should be made to blot out the sound of it! Festive foods are eaten, including Hamantaschen, a filled cookie formed in the shape of the three-sided hat Haman was supposed to have worn. Giving money, food or clothes to at least two needy people is another tradition of Purim. Many Jewish people also fast the day before Purim. This is called Esther’s fast and commemorates the intense three days of repentance, fasting and prayer that preceded Esther’s going to the king to plead for her life and her people.

This year Purim begins on Wednesday evening, March 4. The day before, on the day of Esther's Fast, Israel’s Prime Minister has been invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. That is fitting, as he is expected to speak of Israel’s concern about a peace plan in the works that leaves Iran with nuclear capabilities. A nuclear Iran—a nation that has  not only repeatedly called for the elimination of Israel, but the Jewish people as well—makes tiny Israel very, very nervous. That would be a great day to intercede for the Jewish people; to stand with them as they fight against the spirit of Haman, thousands of years later still calling for their destruction.

There is ongoing debate in this country over whether America should continue to support Israel in the Middle East. While we may prefer to remain neutral, thinking we don’t have a dog in that fight, that can only last so long. The evening news alone provides ample evidence that many sects of Islam don't distinguish between what they call the "little Satan"  (Israel/Jews) and the "great Satan" (Americans of every persuasion). In their minds (and in their own words), both are deserving of death. So neutrality at best, can only be a temporary option. And while America may decide finally to end its support of Israel, that is not an option for Christians who believe the Bible means what it says. We are commanded to love what God loves, and He loves the Jewish people.

Esther’s Uncle Mordecai told her something that should resonate with us today—that she hadn’t been made queen to please herself, but was advanced to just the right place at just the right time to intercede for her people. As we press ever closer to history's conclusion, God has a role for us to play as well. Like Esther, we are here at this time in history ‘for such a time as this.’ And we are invited to come before a greater king than Xerxes, asking for His favor as we become part of His dramatic end times story. The megillat Esther reminds us that God can work through the unlikeliest people and circumstances—advancing His kingdom while caring for His people. But it has absolutely nothing to do with gorillas…

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