In my family, every birthday and anniversary is celebrated with a special meal that usually fills the house with irresistible Caribbean aromas. Food is complimented with animated conversation, a walk down Memory Lane, and the presentation of gifts. We just love to celebrate! My mother will be visiting my wife and me in two weeks, and we have already planned a party to celebrate her arrival and the significant role she has played in my preparation for gospel service.
“It seems that as a species we are instinctively driven to honor the significant moments in our lives. There are deep underlying needs that drive us to engage in celebrations. As a result, we have found so many wonderful ways to meet these needs and create more meaning in our lives.”1
It is of some significance that end-of-life services are increasingly being labeled “Celebration of Life,” as opposed to “Funeral Rites.” And how fitting! In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul speaks about the possibility of his imminent death and tells the Philippian church that he would rejoice if that happened and that they should rejoice with him as well: “Even if I am executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout’s fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.”2 In other words, don’t mourn my death; celebrate it.
A salient feature of the Old Testament is the celebration of various milestones and events by God’s people. The children of Israel seem to have used any “excuse” to have a celebration. When the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt following the exile, they celebrated by throwing a grand party: “Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem.”3 Ellen White underscores the celebratory significance of Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles by saying, “The feast continued for seven days, and for its celebration, the inhabitants of Palestine, with many from other lands, came to Jerusalem. Old and young, rich and poor, all brought some gift as a tribute of thanksgiving to Him who had crowned the year with His goodness. Everything that could give expression to the universal joy was brought from the woods.”4
There were times when God invited His people to throw a party and also provided them with the means and the venue to do so. As a young child, “party” was not a word I associated with the Creator of the universe; but the more familiar I become with Scripture, the more lovable and relatable God becomes. In Deuteronomy 14, we meet God in a “party” mood. He tells the people to use tithe money for a party. I’m not kidding! “But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.”5
Of course, Deuteronomy 14 is not providing us with a license to use the Lord’s tithe on celebratory events. And, of course, it is not the first tithe reserved for the Levites that is referenced here; it is the second tithe. But God’s directive is still significant in that it helps us understand that the somber and serious image of God some have promoted is not the sum total of His personality; there is a fun side to Him as well. He loves a good “party!” Jesus also demonstrated this in His visit to the wedding party at Cana and by contributing to the event by turning water into wine.
In 1990, I attended my first General Conference Session and understood immediately why a General Conference Session is so special to millions of Seventh-day Adventists. The business done on the floor at a General Conference Session has some degree of importance, but it is the celebratory aspect of this major event that is the compelling factor for those who are prepared to spend “big money” to be present. As delegates and guests together celebrate the diversity, growth, and impact of the church, attendees are invested with the sense that they are part of a movement that is huge, dynamic, and progressive. The majority leave with an earnest desire to play their part in sustaining this global movement called Seventh-day Adventism.
In our local churches, we are not able to replicate the expansive celebratory atmosphere of a General Conference Session, but it is nonetheless important that a church makes regular and frequent celebrations a part of its fixed calendar and its spontaneous activities. A church that celebrates is one that is more likely to prove attractive to folk who are searching for a spiritual home. Equally, celebration of God’s actions in the life of a church has a way of eliciting a positive attitude on the part of members, which in turn creates such a well of generosity in their hearts that they will not be resistant to the promptings of the Spirit to joyfully give of themselves, their time, their talents, and their money to sustain that which is celebrated.
It is of some significance that end-of-life services are increasingly being labeled “Celebration of Life,” as opposed to “Funeral Rites.”
Am I the only one who seriously believes that celebration ought to be added to fasting, prayer, and meditation as a spiritual discipline? It’s as significant as the other three in forming character, reenergizing the spirit, creating purpose, and affirming faith. Annual times of celebration such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are necessary for this purpose. But we needn’t wait for these seasons to celebrate. We can find reasons in our home, at our workplace, in our community, or in our local church to celebrate.
In our local churches, we can celebrate the sacrificial and selfless efforts of those who teach and guide our children in Sabbath School, Pathfinders, and Adventurers. We can celebrate each new member joining the church through baptism or profession of faith. We can celebrate our seniors and their special milestones in life. Above all else, we can and should celebrate the three most remarkable events in our world since its creation—the incomprehensible birth, selfless death, and glorious resurrection of our Lord. As a friend of mine said recently, “If we cannot celebrate these watershed events, no other celebration matters.”
1 Seline Shenoy, “5 Reasons Why It Is Important to Commemorate Special Occasions,” shop.projecthappiness.org, accessed, May 20, 2019.
2 Philippians 2:17, 18, Message.
3 Nehemiah 12:27-29, NKJV.
4 Ellen G. White, From Heaven With Love, p. 300.
5 Deuteronomy 14:24-26, NKJV.