Next Tuesday, miniature ghosts, goblins and super heroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy. It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.
Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door.
I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering, at least for a night, into their fantasy world. I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors, until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our 5-year-old he had enough candy for one night.
I still look forward to answering our doorbell on Halloween. I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume. I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts and witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.”
Halloween, of course, has its dark side. Our nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the naïve world of Halloween past. We are more aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.
Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween. On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity. On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy. It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination. It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.
Many struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control. They find themselves on a collision course with destruction. Our world needs the deliverance from evil.
Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons. He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones. Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.
When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him, the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned. The man was healed. When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.
This Halloween we will celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We will celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest. Halloween can also serve as a reminder that in our struggles with the unseen forces of good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer.