Some people say that Labor Day is a Marxist holiday. Indeed, it was first celebrated in the U.S. by the Central Labor Union (the predecessor of the AFL-CIO) in New York in 1882, and a version of it became quite the national holiday in the former Communist Bloc nations, celebrated with Red Army military parades, etc.
To that I say, Marxism emerged and became successful bec there was a need--workers were overlooked and undermined by society and people were fed up. Was it a good system? No, but it existed for a reason: deplorable social structures. (Considering that Communism took hold in many otherwise Christian nations, perhaps the Church is partly to blame for not providing a better solution. Oh, the quandaries of the age-old "How much should the Church become involved in politics/secular society?" question.... but I don't want us to get sidetracked by that during this devotional thought.)
I don't think our primary problem in the U.S. today (thanks be to God) is the reprehensible condition of our working class; even w/this bad economy, working conditions, etc. are still significantly better than they were for most in the urban industrial sector during the late 1800s. But, in relation to Labor Day, two thoughts do stick out to me; the first, a reflection on what I believe is a major social problem that relates to this holiday; the second, a simple responsive action to that issue:
1.) We, as a nation (in the sense here of a people group), are a people who, by and large, have forgotten to stop and remember. Many Christians get upset with the over-commercialization and secularization of holidays like Christmas and Easter. I am one of them. As we know, the light and fun and innocuous elements of these holidays have increasingly begun to overshadow their deep spiritual significance more and more as our overly-P.C. society adds "religiophobic" to its social ethos. Even now, having largely been stripped down to their lowest common symbolic denominators (Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the Easter bunny, etc.), a further societal backlash ensued as people felt increasingly uneasy about these holiday's religious aspects, with public schools being barred from such ostentatious displays of religious proselytization as the brainwashing ritual of singing the ancient, culturally popular classic "Silent Night." Such carols have broadly been declared verboten from school choir performances, lest the minds of our fragile, impressionable, and pluralistic youth are corrupted by things like virgins and farm animals and babies in mangers and twinkling stars and such. Even in the private, commercial sector, business workers are increasingly instructed to offer the generic and utterly impotent festal greeting "Happy Holidays" during the month of December.
Perhaps the good side of that is one can simply choose which holiday they want to be happy about when someone says that. "Happy Holidays," declares the half-engaged department store worker as they already glance ahead to the next customer who is trying to balance her pile of clothing and ceramic mixing bowls and decorative "infused" olive oil bottles that will soon be collecting dust on her uncle's stovetop. But in your mind you can think, "Happy Holidays? I know it's Christmas, but man, that's a bit played out by now. I've been looking at Christmas trees and twinkle lights since October. Hmmmm... sparklers, yes! Happy 4th of July--that's it! I had to work that weekend, so I never got to light those sparklers I smuggled in from Tijuana last June. 'A happy Independence Day to you, too, ma'am!' you declare to the puzzled minimum wage employ, 'Damn those British!!' "
What I realized today is our... and I would be Conservatively P.C. here and say "Judeo-Christian holidays," but let's be honest, Jewish people don't celebrate Christian holidays, at least not in their religious aspects, and vice a versa; also, most Jewish holidays, since Jews are a minority in the U.S., have been able to retain their religious nature, even as they find occasional expressions in the public sphere. So, what I realized today is that it isn't just our religiously-rooted Christian holidays here in America that have lost much of their salt, so to speak--though there does seem to be an intentional attack upon them for their aforementioned religious nature, but perhaps the organized atheists and virulent secularists are really wasting their hot air and pay checks on more legal bills... Their strategies to further separate Church and State (with "State" in their practical definition effectually meaning "American culture," not just its governmental institutions) are pretty much unnecessary--not because the average American has become godless (which survey and poll and study and research paper after survey and poll and study and research paper have repeatedly shown just isn't the case), but rather because most Americans simply just don't stop and remember. Anything.
Who has time to contemplate the challenging profundity of the Creator of the Universe lying vulnerable as a human baby in a smelly animal shelter when there are more sales to attack and "this year's hot toys" to fight strangers over at the mall? Who has time to cook a holiday feast for family and friends when traffic is so bad? Why would I go to the Veteran's cemetery to stop and remember and be utterly grateful for the young men and women who died so I can safely watch football on tv when there are so many football games on tv that I can watch? Don't worry, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, traditional Christian holidays have become poor vehicles for converting people. We are much too busy buying crap to think about the subliminal messages seasonally being pumped into our brains by the Musak at the Westfield Shopping Plaza, infused with that oppressive medieval delusion called "religion."
Sorry, however, it's not due to our collective enlightenment of the naturalistic doctrines you so desperately cling to, it's simply because we just have too much stuff to do, too many "important" things to think about, and too many hamburgers to grill. Uncle Sam and Patrick the Leprechaun are feeling the crunch, too.
2.) OK, so now what? Yeah, we are busy and ungrateful people who have lost any real sense of annual rhythm, especially a rhythm of memory. What to do about it? I can't change corporate America or effectively tell the raging secularists to pull their victimization sticks out of their bums and stuff their mouths with them instead so the rest of us can just enjoy life and celebrate our stupid little holidays without too much f I put lights on my house will I offend my Buddhist neighbor?" self-analysis. (The answer, btw, is "no." Lights are pretty and Buddhists generally don't get uptight about such things.)
Well... today is Labor Day. Perhaps in your own little, possibly self-gratifying, white guilt-reducing manner you can put your subversive skills to work in a small way. (As Americans, we like big trucks but small actions, let's be honest...) But this is the kind of small change, that added to a bunch of other, similar, small changes, will begin to change the way you think, bec it will begin to change the way you see your world. And once you begin to see your world differently, you will understand it differently. And when you understand it differently, you will respond to it differently, and will end up making some different choices, and relating to other people differently. Enough people begin to do this, and you have your own grassroots social revolutionary movement! Now, aren't WE cool! We might even get American Apparel t-shirts made for our cause, and then the hipsters will love us. Sorry, I was dreaming out loud.
OK, ready? Here's the 1st revolutionary step you can take, one that will even make the card-carrying grad school Marxists proud--stop and remember. Yep. That's it: stop and remember. "Remember what?" you ask. Well, it's Labor Day. Stop and remember--think about and be thankful for all of the people, around the world, who made today possible. All of the people who labor, who serve you, directly and indirectly. People like:
your postal worker
your cell phone carrier workers
the farmers and day laborers who grew and raised and picked and slaughtered the food you are eating
the truckers and mariners who transported your food to Ralphs and your light bulbs to Wal Mart
your auto repairman
your teachers, past and present
your pastors and church staff
your garbage man (I mean... sanitary engineer)
the people who designed, marketed, assembled, shipped, inspected, repaired and sold the computer that you are using right now
the people who made the table and the chair you are at
the police and firemen who keep you safe
government workers and politicians
waitstaff and buss people where you eat
salespeople in the stores where you shop, business owners
the actors and producers and directors and gaffers and editors and costume workers of the tv shows and movies you watch and enjoy
the athletes and coaches and peanut salesmen for your favorite sports teams
doctors, nurses, researchers, pharmacists, chiropractors, etc who keep you healthy
etc., etc., etc.
The list can go on and on. But realize how dependent you are on the labor of others. Be thankful for them. Say a prayer for them, regardless of how removed and anonymous they may feel; God knows who they are, and he cherishes a heart full of gratitude.
Be thankful for your own job, if you have have. Be thankful for the jobs you have had in the past if you don't, and pray for a new one, so you, too, may serve others in that way.
Use this Labor Day as one step in walking towards a lifestyle where you, counter-culturally, take sabbath and stop and remember, realize your interconnectedness, and are grateful. Do this enough, and your world will be different, because you will see it differently, and will respond to it differently, and in so doing, you will bring the good news of shabbat to it, a ceasing of our labors so that we can enjoy the fruits of them, and give thanks for the fruits that other laborers and our good Creator have graciously given to us.
The peace and rest of Christ to you this Labor Day. Amen.