The Life you’ve always wanted. This week the title is the practice of celebration. My thoughts on this have been influenced by the writings of Richard Foster who wrote the book Celebration of Discipline. One of his chapters is called the Discipline of Celebration.
Combining the words discipline and celebration seems, at first, to be describing opposites. Discipline sounds like serious business. The sort of thing that is inflicted on us. It brings to mind school, work or, perhaps, military life. Sometimes making us do things that we don’t want to do.
Celebration on the other hand is usually something that we choose to do. Birthday parties, wedding anniversaries etcetera. Usually associated with enjoyment.
Which category does faith come into? Discipline or Celebration? We certainly should take it seriously but we also need to learn to enjoy it. I have said it before but make no apology for saying it again. Some Christians go to church looking as though they are going to the dentist. The sad thing is they come out of church looking as they have been to the dentist.
When we look back at Jesus’ life, we often talk about the more solemn and serious moments. The crucifixion is one of the most important events in Christian history and it is sad that he had to die so cruelly. Yet there are lots of stories where Jesus celebrated life. He is said to have attended a wedding where he turned water into wine. He would have been a welcome guest at any wedding if he did that. We read of great thanksgiving when he raised people from the dead. He celebrated the Jewish feast days and even the last supper was a celebration of the Passover.
Even in the Old Testament, often associated with stories of famine, disaster and wars there are plenty of examples of celebrations taking place. From David dancing in the streets as in our reading from Samuel to the celebrations in Esther when the Jews were saved from slaughter. A festival now known as Purim. It seem obvious to me that we are not expected to be po-faced all the time. Christianity means celebrating and just having some fun. The spiritual discipline of celebration is not just an outward expression. Celebration is also something very internal. Joy is something we have to find in our own relationships with Jesus. Those of us who are older sometimes say,
“We must be ok. We woke up this morning.” That in itself being a cause for celebration. We might also say. “I know I am still alive, I still hurt.” We know that life provides us with moments of laughter and, hopefully, sheer happiness.
We also know the opposite. Life also provides dark moments. Times of grief, worry and despair. In our quest for the joy we feel as followers of Jesus we must never forget that it is not natural to be happy all the time.
Having said that I do think Christianity loses out on celebrations. I mean real celebrations. Yes we have Christmas. Lots of presents. We have Easter. Lots of Chocolate. Non Christians seem to celebrate these events with more celebratory joy than Christians.
The Jews have Purim, Passover and Hannukah, to name just three. All these involve celebratory food, and partying. Hindus have Holi and Diwali among others. Both are times of enjoyment and fun. Muslims have the festival of breaking the fast after Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice. The instruction for those celebrations is that food is eaten with a cheerful heart in thanksgiving for God’s provision.
When we develop the spiritual discipline of celebration we make ourselves stronger. I believe that we need to have social events where we can be together as a Christian family. Both to worship and just to enjoy each other’s company. Being happy in our faith can break down barriers. Barriers caused by different approaches to religion as occurs between denominations. Barriers caused by differing understanding of God as occurs between differing religions. We break down barriers to our own faith when we find happiness in Jesus. Our burdens become less heavy. We may also find a way out of the darker moments faster.
Celebration can also help in spreading the true Gospel message. Too many people see the Christian faith as whiney and more fire and brimstone rather than joyful celebration. When we are happy in our faith we show people all the wonderful things about our faith. We demonstrate the strength and wonder of God. We worship God better and love people better. In order to be strong in the spiritual discipline of celebration we have to practice it.
Some ideas. Take yourself less seriously. We tend to take our lives and our faith very seriously, and we should. Funny things happen, especially in church. We need to have a good sense of humour about what happens to us and around us. We all have those embarrassing moments, learn to laugh at yourself. Worship fully. Let yourself go when you worship God. Sing hymns joyfully. Really mean the words. When you read your bible think about what you are reading. Make notes in the margins if you want. I don’t know about you but I always feel better after a good laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine. There is often something funny in almost every situation. If it is too embarrassing to laugh just smile. Celebrate everything and everyone. The best way to demonstrate that you know how to celebrate being a Christian is to celebrate everything around you. When a friend has a special moment, celebrate it. When something good happens in the world, celebrate it. Show your joy for even the small things. I must add that I am not saying you should be happy all the time. What I am saying is that we should look for times when we can celebrate.
I would like to end with words from Philippians Chapter 4 verses 4-7.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious or worried about anything. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, stand guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Just as an example of things being funny. When I was writing this last verse down, instead of “Let your Gentle Spirit be know to all people.” I had written “Let your gentle spit be known to all people.” Fortunately Jane spotted it. Even writing sermons can be funny.