Among the greetings from the East this Christmas came one from someone who was to be in Cebu (in the Philippines) during the early days of January. He was lamenting the influx of Filipinos to worship the effigy of Santo Nino – a representation of the baby Jesus – dating back to 1521. The feast day on 14th January deflects attention from Christmas and contravenes the second commandment. In Ireland we are not unfamiliar with relics or statues and recently there has been renewed interest in the Marian shrine at Knock. This occurred when a local “faith healer” prophesied that the Virgin Mary would appear and on the first occasion drew a large crowd which he asked to stare at the sun. Apart from some eye damage nothing miraculous appears to have happened and on the second occasion few turned up. It is not anticipated that there will be a third! What the Bible says about these things has been helpfully analysed for me recently by James R Edwards in his book “Is Jesus the only Saviour?” He finds two broad categories of those who worship and serve the creature (or created things) rather that the Creator as St Paul put it in Romans chapter 1. In the first category are the Canaanite Cults which worshipped the divine force pulsating through nature. This revolved around powers of fertility in the soil. Baal was the lord of the land and the source of its fertility. Union between Baal and his consort in heaven produced the rain that made the land productive. This was helped by similar behaviour and human sacrifice by the devotees. Other gods mentioned in the Bible are Moloch and Chemosh who required sacred prostitution and child sacrifice. These Canaanite fertility cults were the subject of unrelieved repudiation in Scripture. The second category rejects religious practices, not for their wickedness but for their worthlessness. Barnabas appealed to worshippers of Greek gods and goddesses to “turn from these worthless images to the living God”. (Acts 14:15) The Old Testament identifies their human origins; “the work of human hands. They have mouths but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, nor is there any breath in there mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!” (Psalm 135: 15/18). Thus the Bible views them as folly but not innocuous folly as those who worship them become like them – dumb, blind, deaf and lifeless – and are drawn away from seeking Christ. Cults in the first category are wholly rejected as evil. In the second category, the adherents are not condemned and certainly not annihilated but persuaded to abandon their folly and embrace the true God. So what are we to make of all this? If you are not a believer you need to reject these cultic ways and turn to Christ. For the believers in both Cebu and Ireland, may God give us discernment in our proclamation of the incomparable Christ our Saviour.