January 25, 2016
I can still remember the dish filled with jellied candies that my grandmother had out on the end table whenever we would flood her home for family celebrations. I remember the octagonally shaped end table full of games and hidden treasures. Every single birthday in our family was spent celebrating at grandma's house. Each of these gatherings is like a thread, tying me to a past full of happy memories, and inviting me into a future of making new memories with my own family.
The dictionary defines celebration as "the action of marking one's pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity." We can see many ways in which our culture has made each occasion for celebration into an extravagant affair: weddings have become a multi-billion dollar industry, we've made planning a 16th birthday party into a reality TV show, and birthday parties now include the expectation of leaving with a "goodie bag" to reward your attendance. So is this the message we are left with? That celebrations must be extravagant, expensive, and well-attended in order to "mark one's pleasure?"
In Biblical times, God commanded His people to celebrate feasts because He knew how prone they were to forgetting the great things He had done on their behalf. He commanded them to celebrate the Passover, when the blood of the lamb caused the angel of death to "pass over" the homes of the Israelites. Over and over, we see God instituting feasts and celebrations as a way for people to remember the mighty ways He had acted on their behalf. And each of these remembrances foreshadowed His future coming, a time where He would set up His rule and reign in a Kingdom where wrong things are made right.
Past times in our own country have held less extravagant celebrations. Our own birthday celebrations growing up included our immediate family, a piece of cake with a candle, and smiling faces singing the traditional "Happy Birthday" song. Other cultures have long since celebrated important milestones such as birthdays, weddings, and coming of age. Although these celebrations vary from culture to culture in their decorations, attendance, and traditions, they all have the same purpose: a group of people, sharing in the same joy, have gathered together to remember what has been up to that point, and to anticipate with joy what is yet to come.
So, in the end, I believe that celebrations are much less about how you celebrate, but about why. We have been given the opportunity to celebrate each moment that we live and breathe. Even the most mundane tasks, like doing the dishes, can be a celebration! Each dish that is washed is a remembrance of a meal eaten, and a hopeful reminder of many more meals to come. Every candle lit is a reminder of the Light, Jesus Christ, come into a dark world, and a hopeful reminder that His return carries with it a promise to end all sorrow. Celebrations are about remembering. They are invitations to stop and slow our breath; they are opportunities to look for the gifts of grace all around us, and to enter into them with thankful, joyful hearts of praise. In essence, each time we celebrate, we acknowledge that we have been given something good, something worthy of our time and attention. We have the right to stiffen our necks and refuse to acknowledge the Creator's hand in this. Oh yes, we can chalk the gifts up to Santa or the Easter Bunny, or our good fortunes. But in my experience, the very best celebrations-the ones that are the most true and therefore, the most joyful-are the ones which acknowledge the Giver of all things. The best celebrations remember the goodness of a God who is always working on our behalf, bringing all things to the climactic celebration He has planned for those that love Him, and will enter into the joy He has purposed since the very foundations of the world. So whether they are extravagant, or simple, celebrations are links in the chains of our memories, reminding us that all good things began with Him, our Creator. All good things find their meaning and culmination in Him. And in between, we have end tables full of treasures and jellied candies to lead our wandering minds back to Him.