As I'm writing this post I'm drinking a lovely shamrock shake and contemplating how on earth I can work green into my Sunday outfit. It's the St. Patrick's Day season which basically means people get drunk on green beer and wear green beads. Personally, I think that's a shame. I would like to argue for giving St. Paddy's Day a second chance at being more than a tongue-in-cheek tribute to all things Irishy.
I'm one those people that believes things like holidays and ceremonies matter. God seems to be of the same opinion. In the Old Testament, He established several holidays and ceremonies. In the Church Age, He gave us the ordinances (baptism and the Lord's Supper) and the Lord's Day.
Now, as a good Protestant I recognize that there have been many abuses of "saint days". Much of the struggle during the Reformation was to purge the Church of the ridiculous idolatry that so prevailed in Catholicism. Therefore, many fundamentalist and evangelical churches are cautious about establishing extra-biblical holidays. And they are right to be leery.
However, I still think that there is a place for honoring our past in way that points us to Christ rather than distracts us from Him. As a society, we honor past events (i.e. Independence Day, Patriot Day) and historical figures (i.e. MLK Jr. Day, Veteran's Day). Furthermore, even our neck of the Christian woods, we still celebrate Christmas and in a few weeks Easter services will be honored. Likewise, I think there is a place for the Church to honor her history and past heroes; not in a "hero worship" sort of way but in same way you would honor living people like your pastor or mentor.
I think that St. Patrick's Day provides us with just such an opportunity. For starters, the holiday is all about missions. Patrick, a Romano-British boy, was stolen away to Ireland as a slave. Proof that adversity can be used for God's glory, he eventually became a clergyman and converted the nation that enslaved him. His holiday ought to remind us of the urgency of our mission.
In refuting his critics who mocked his interest in "savage people", the father of the modern missions movement, William Carrey, said in his marvelous book, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of the Former Undertaking and the Practicability of the Further Undertakings are Considered (don't worry, the book's about half as long as the title!): "It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries to be civilized before they could be christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross." Carrey reminded his readers that we're all savages at heart and as converted barbarians were should be zealous the share the Gospel. The story of Bishop Patrick ought to remind us of the same thing.
Therefore, as you drink your shamrock shakes and put on green beads, remember the bigger lessons of March 17th. St. Patrick's Day has the potential of reminding us of the task at hand. By looking at the past, it can motivate us in the future.
See Also: A St. Patrick's Day Roundup (2011)