Purim is a Jewish feast that commemorates the rescue of the Jewish people from genocide during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus in the 5th century BC.
During Ahasuerus’s reign, a man named Haman became a high-ranking official. He was an Agagite and hated the Jews, especially one named Mordecai. This was because 500 years earlier his people had almost been wiped out by the Jewish King Saul.
Haman hatched a plan. He persuaded Ahasuerus to issue a decree for all Jews to be killed. Haman then chose the day for the slaughter by lot: 13th day of the month of Adar. That was some months away.
But all was not lost for the Jews. Through the providence of God, the new queen of Ahasuerus was a Jewish woman named Esther.
She had been brought up by her uncle Mordecai. With his encouragement, Esther bravely revealed all to the king and the tables were turned: Haman was hanged and Mordecai was given the position previously held by Haman.
Mordecai was also allowed to draft a new decree giving the Jews permission to arm and defend themselves, then attack their enemies on the same day as the previous decree.
So instead of being a day of defeat, the 13th day of Adar became a day of victory.
Mordecai then proposed an annual feast to remember the Jews’ great deliverance. It became the feast of Purim (Purim is taken from the Hebrew word that means lot).
Now what has this got to do with Christmas?
Perhaps you have agonised over whether you should celebrate Christmas at all. We are not commanded to remember the birth of Jesus in the Bible. Christmas has also become very commercialised and its true message sidelined by the emphasis on Father Christmas. Moreover, we do not even know the actual date of Jesus’s birth.
Many Christians refrain from celebrating Christmas, and I respect their decision. However, I believe the Scriptures give us liberty in deciding whether to celebrate such a day. Paul writes in Romans 14:5-6, ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.’
I also believe that the feast of Purim gives the church warrant to create a feast day to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus.
It is significant that there is no command from God to add this feast day to the Jewish calendar. Mordecai was no prophet. We read in Esther 9: 23: ‘So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them.’
It was a custom, not a command – and a custom they were delighted to adopt and continue. It is almost certain that Jesus would have celebrated this feast.
If the Jews accepted Purim as a custom, cannot we Christians also accept Christmas as a custom?
Of course, we should avoid the world’s version of Christmas (especially Father Christmas), but should we not seize the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and share the gospel?
The feast of Purim also gives us an example of what we can do on such a day.
Esther 9:22 says, ‘They should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.’ I want us to apply what the Jews do at Purim to help us see what we can do at Christmas.
1) Purim was a day of joy and so is Christmas
Why did the Jews have two days of joy? What were they celebrating? They had been saved from certain destruction!
It was their darkest hour since the children of Israel were trapped by the Red Sea in the time of Moses. The Jews were a captive race. They were unable to defend themselves. There seemed no way of escape. But God raised up a deliverer from an unlikely source – a woman named Esther.
What are we remembering on 25 December? The birth of our Saviour, our deliverer.
The world was in deep spiritual darkness 2,000 years ago when a baby was born in Bethlehem. At that moment, the spiritual darkness began to be swept away and the chains of sin began to be broken.
The shepherds marvelled, the wise men worshipped, and the angels sang. How they sang! ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards man.’
See salvation come down from heaven! See that God became man to save his people from their sins!
If the Jews celebrated and rejoiced because of their physical, temporary redemption, how much more should Christians celebrate and rejoice because of spiritual, eternal redemption!
But this was not a day of rejoicing for everyone. For the enemies of the Jews it was a day of sorrow and death. They received the punishment that they truly deserved.
Esther 9:5: ‘Thus, the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.’
For millions, Christmas Day is a day of disappointment and sadness. Why? Because those who are not Christians have nothing to celebrate. Yes, they also give each other presents; yes, they also have a slap-up meal; but for what?
If you are not a Christian today and have not repented of your sins and believed in the Lord Jesus, then you have nothing to celebrate at Christmas.
Your presents will eventually break, the food will be gone, the tree will die, and what will you have? A hopeless future. All that awaits you is eternal death and eternal punishment.
But it need not be like that! You can turn Christmas Day from a day of sorrow into a day of joy. We read that this is what happened in the time of Esther. Many of the people in the land became Jews!
How can you turn Christmas day into a day of joy – a joy that will last forever? Become a Christian! Realise that Christ came into the world to suffer death and punishment for your sins so that you don’t have to suffer eternal death and eternal punishment.
On the cross Jesus died a substitute’s death. He took upon himself the punishment of all those who believe in him. He is the Saviour of the world.
How can you be saved? Jesus tells in the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’
Come to Christ. Confess your sin. Ask him to be your Lord and Saviour.
2) Purim was a time of feasting and presents and so is Christmas
In Esther 9:22, we read that during the feast of Purim families got together, they feasted and gave presents to one another.Doesn’t that sound like Christmas?
Why were they doing this? Because we are told in Esther 9:22 that it was a holiday. The original Hebrew literally says, ‘a good day’. It was a good day because of their good God. He had saved them from annihilation.
Scripture gives us examples of God’s people rejoicing at the goodness of God and having a day of celebration. This occurred after the parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance from Egypt, after David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and after the revival under Hezekiah.
If the Jews remembered their physical redemption, how much more should we remember our spiritual redemption?
On Christmas day we remember how we were delivered from sin. The day that Jesus was born was a good day! So children, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – in fact, everyone may feel the liberty to have a day of feasting and giving of presents.
But as you eat your meal, thank God that the bread of heaven came down to earth. As you enjoy your festive drink, thank God that you have found the water of life. As your give presents, thank God for the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. And do it in a godly way, without going to excess.
3) Purim was a day of helping the poor and so is Christmas
The feast of Purim was not a selfish, self-indulgent day. Esther 9:22 says that they gave gifts to the poor as well.
At Christmastime we should especially take to heart the words of James 2:14-17: ‘What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’
Spare a few moments now to think about that neighbour who lives alone or that poor shunned immigrant family who live nearby. Can you help them in some small way over Christmas? Could you invite them to join you on Christmas Day? Could you take them to church and then take them home, giving them a meal to remember and gifts to treasure?
So the feast of Purim was a day of joy, a day of feasting and presents, and a day of giving gifts to the poor.
There was one other thing that it became a custom for the Jewish people to do at the feast of Purim. They read the whole book of Esther, something they still do today. It is quite an event! Whenever the name Haman is read out, the congregation make a noise to blot out his name. Why? Because they are remembering that their great enemy had been defeated.
At Christmas we also remember that the coming of Jesus into the world leads to the blotting out of our great enemies sin and death and hell.
At the end of the service at Purim, the rabbi recites a prayer that begins and ends as follows: ‘Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe…the God who brings salvation.’
We can say amen to that prayer as we remember that it is God who has brought us salvation.
So this Christmas there is no need to feel guilty about celebrating. Attend a Christmas service, have a wonderful Christmas feast, enjoy giving presents, and remember the poor and lonely. Above all, say thank you to God for sending his Son to save us from our sins.