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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cause to Celebrate

I’ve always been pretty laid back. There are generations of finely-tuned English restraint in my end of the gene pool, the most obvious result of which is that I tend to be more comfortable with fairly austere, reserved modes of praise.

But people were made to celebrate. Including me.

We’ve done it all through history, in good ways and bad. Celebration seems to be hardwired into the human race, Brits notwithstanding. Whatever doesn’t come out in church comes out anywhere near a football pitch. All cultures celebrate, though it may look vastly different from one cultural setting to another.

Statutes and Rules So Righteous

Celebration was baked into Israelite culture by God himself. We may tend to think of the Law of Moses primarily as restricting and subduing the baser human impulses, which it certainly did. Paul’s New Testament explanation of the purpose of law reveals that it was primarily intended to create awareness of sin, something he emphasizes over and over.

That’s doesn’t seem like something to celebrate, and it isn’t. But the law was also an important aspect of Israel’s testimony to the nations. As Moses himself put it, “What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”

Indeed.

Tithes and Celebration

The law, had it been consistently obeyed, would have brought Jehovah into every moment of Hebrew life: not simply consciousness of sin, repentance and worship, civil order and moral and physical hygiene, but even ... celebration. The tithe of the field was set aside specifically for this purpose:
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire — oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
While it seems a bit odd to associate the legitimate use of wine, strong drink and “cravings of the appetite” with the presence of Jehovah, the verse is most definitely there, and it’s not going away. I do like the idea that there is no corner of the human spirit that may legitimately recuse itself from the presence of God and exempt itself from his touch.

The Festive Spirit in Acts

Christians, too, should celebrate, and maybe in ways we don’t currently. After all, we have a great deal more to be festive about than God’s earthly people did:
A Nation of Celebrants

If we leave aside the examples we see in the early church, we find the epistles peppered with injunctions for us to be a people characterized by celebration. Hope, truth, the obedience or joy of others, the maturing of fellow believers, avid faith, sacrifice and the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings are all causes of Christian cheer and exuberance — so many different causes that listing them all quickly becomes tedious, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that “rejoice always” and “in all things” are New Testament watchwords.

So do we really celebrate like the early church? Do we bring the Lord Jesus into every aspect of our lives, as the Israelites were instructed to bring Jehovah into theirs? It’s worth considering.

Terms of Comparison

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that there is value in behaving like delirious charismatics, or in working up the appearance of enthusiasm to avoid looking less spiritual than the effervescent perk-bots we go to church with (everybody knows at least one of these). Still, as much as I prefer my glee in small doses, I suspect our tepid Sunday morning cheer might seem just a tad feeble to the apostles, especially when during the week many of us seem to be able to find our voices over things that, comparatively speaking, don’t matter in the least.

For me at least, that means if I find myself more worked up over a rock concert, a football game or a good job performance review than a baptism, a new convert or an interpretation of a passage that suddenly connects the dots for me, I have probably lost the plot somewhere.

It’s not about whether I can nail an 8.5/10 on the celebration scale in church every Sunday morning. It’s about where everything else in my life fits on that scale.

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