Christians are_________. What did you think about? Christians are boring. Christians are religious. Christians are right. Christians are narrow. Christians are hypocrites. Christians are nice. Christians are_______?
Most of us don’t immediately think of Christians as partiers. Or of Christians as being full of celebration and laughter. There is a stoicism that has crept into much of Christendom that seems to imply that to be really mature and holy, to really take God seriously, is to be somber, serious, quiet, even, and contained… that we are to be the “frozen chosen” and that celebration is for the less intelligent of the bunch. There is one big problem with this view – it is supremely not biblical.
Celebration is a major theme in the Bible. When God does something grand, when he moves in a mighty way in our life, the appropriate response is to party!
We see festivals as a commanded part of the Jewish culture. God made them party. That’s right, he commanded them to party! Make no mistake about it – we’re talking about major festivals – not a bunch of people sitting around sipping tea and playing solitaire. They had the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, the Feast of Weeks, the Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles. [Take note of the word “Feast”!] Not to mention the incredible celebration of the Year of Jubilee.
Scripture is full of commands and examples of celebrating God publicly:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers! -Luke 19:38-40
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! -Philippians 4:4
The Psalmist wrote:
Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute,
praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. -Psalm 150
Celebration is core to the Christian life. Many of us have seen those cartoons with people in Hell, listening to music, and smoking cigars, as they sit around playing their favorite card game and drinking a big old beer – conveying the idea that Hell is this cool party with friends. On the flip side, Heaven is seen as a place of solitude where each of us individually, in a little white gown, sits on a fluffy cloud and plays a nice soft song on a golden harp. We have it all confused. Heaven is the true party, with friends, and shouts, and food. Hell is the place of solitude and aloneness.
C.S. Lewis in his work of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, describes a conversation that gives us insight into the devil’s view of the joy of celebration:
“Fun is closely related to joy – a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is of very little use to us…it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils. You will see joy among friends and lovers reunited at the eve of a holiday…Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven – a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged.”
Satan comes to kill and destroy – to steal real joy and celebration.
Exodus 15 describes how the people of Israel were enslaved all their lives. They never knew freedom to worship God and to work in their area of gift and passion. They lived with a fear of their children being beaten, and of working, literally, to death. They were treated as property – as nothing more than a means to an end, machines to build the desires of Pharaoh the King. Yet God had not forgotten them, and he sent Moses to deliver them from gloom to glory. God poured out his power through the ten plagues and the people were released. As they began their journey to the Promised Land, they were directed by God to take the curious route south that would hem them in, with water in front of them and the most powerful (and very angry) military in the world behind them. This was all God’s plan, as he absolutely wiped out the army of Pharaoh with such power that they would not have the capacity to become a threat to the Israelites for generations until after the death of King Solomon. The armies were destroyed, and they walked across dry land entering into the new life that God had provided. So, what did they do?
They partied! Moses and the Israelites sang a song to the Lord. All the people sang – not just the musical, or the up-front people. Miriam, the first woman to be called a prophetess, lead them in an antiphon, which is a song with a call and response, dancing and playing the tambourine. This was a party. The appropriate response after such an incredible and total act of God was clear: Celebration! Imagine what this looked like! We think, “Wow! They had so much energy! So much youthful exuberance!” NO! Moses was 80 years old, Aaron his brother, 83, and Miriam was 90! This was a celebration of the young and the old. Move over, Dancing with the Stars!
Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!” Celebration is a mandatory response to what God has done, who God is, and what He is going to do. We will never embrace the full power and potential of God in our life without genuine celebration over what God has done, who God is, and what He will do. Celebration gives us the capacity to live in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we are so caught up with being adults that we’re really missing out on his kingdom. It’s time for Christians to party a little more, to let go and celebrate the incredible God we serve. It’s time to let down our cold, dull, perceived spiritual maturity and laugh more, sing louder, and party harder with Christ at the center of it all.