When I was a lad, at about this time of year we got some old clothes, stuffed them full of other old rags, put them in a wheelbarrow and either went door to door or stood outside the shops. If you are over 40, you will have no difficulty recollecting what this process was called: “Penny for the Guy”.
The 5th of November wasn’t simply Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night, it was Guy Fawkes’ Night. “Remember, remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.” It had been held ever since the gunpowder plot when people tried to blow up parliament with King James inside it. Not a very nice thing to do, although they regarded James as a tyrant. Guy Fawkes and his friends were planning something rather nasty but they met a rather sticky end themselves. For those with delicate digestions I wont go into all the details but they were longer, thinner and in more pieces at the end of it than they started out. Somehow, in the many years since I went collecting “penny for the Guy”, we’ve stopped doing it and something else has taken its place.
Have you been into Sainsbury’s, Co-op or Tesco’s in the last two weeks? Have you noticed the way in which they each have displays about Halloween which falls on 31st October You can’t avoid it. Supermarket masks and pictures of ghostly faces stare at you from the aisles. You can't turn on the television without these images appearing. Pictures of spooks and ghouls are glaring at you everywhere you go as we approach "Halloween." But its not just in shops. It’s in schools too; it’s in the pubs and clubs and we now have the annual event of “trick or treating”.
I want to think about two things today. The first is to touch base with what the bible says about such things. The second is to think about how we will be light when all around are celebrating darkness.
There is much evil at large in this world. Some of it is human evil – the selfishness that we show in our dealings with one another and with God. Some of it is ‘directed’ evil. Evil with a purpose and that purpose is to distract us from the truth. The Bible says quite a bit about this type of evil. One of the reasons to be concerned about Halloween is that evil is at work here among ordinary human beings. Jesus Christ encountered evil many times during His ministry on earth. The disciples reported that evil retreated before them when they spoke in Christ’s name and the Apostle Paul tells of "the messenger of Satan" sent to "buffet" him, to torment him (II Corinthians 12:7). The Apostle Paul spoke of this kind of evil when he said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world" (Ephesians 6:12). Every Christian "wrestles" against evil. That's why it's so important to pray for God to protect you and guide you through "the darkness of this world."
Halloween focuses on evil: dressed up for popular consumption. Costumes of witches and demons will be worn in abundance, paper cut-out bats and ghosts decorate restaurants and businesses, and sneering "jack-o-lantern" pumpkins will be found alight in many a window all in the name of fun. Thousands of people - many of them professing Christians - will engage in a hearty embracing of the evening with little thought as to the underlying significance of what they are doing. Few can deny awareness of Halloween's dark, even frightening, overtones but fewer seem to even care. So why do we – people of the Light of the world – delight in dark things?
Christians should not be celebrating the darkness! But how can we, as people of the light, help correct this? On Halloween night – what can we do?
In our families - instead of focusing on the negative aspects of Halloween, you can turn the holiday into a positive, relationship-building tradition for your family. For Trick-or-Treaters who will call at your home, instead of ignoring them or turning them away, put out a bowl of Satsumas (soft fruit doesn’t break windows!) or some sweets but decorate the bowl with something that tells visitors that God loves them. If they knock, admire the effort that has gone into the costumes and say to each “God bless you!”
In all this, let us look forward to the time when, at a word, Christ shall sweep away the darkness with His glorious light. And then let us pray that prayer that countless Christians have prayed and continue to pray when darkness comes:
“Bring light to our darkness we ask you O God, and by your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the sake of your only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.”