Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
This passage, Luke 2:10-11, ushers in the Christmas season every year. The news that baby Jesus had entered the world was announced to the shepherds as “good tidings of great joy.” And just like “good tidings of great joy” ushered the Messiah into the world, so it ushers in the final discipline on Richard Foster’s list of Spiritual Disciplines.
The final discipline is celebration. Merriam-Webster defines “celebration” as: “to do something special or enjoyable for an important event, occasion, holiday, etc.; to praise (someone or something); to say that (someone or something) is great or important.” Often, I think, Christians are thought of as no-fun, “goody-two-shoes” here to kill their own chance of fun and everyone else’s too. They’re thought of as society’s moral police who stick their “intolerant” noses into everyone else’s business.
I know there’s some truth to that stereotype, because standing with Christ rather than the world whenever they clash (which is often) is what we are called to do. And yet, the coming of the Christ (Christianity’s namesake and the center of the faith) was celebrated as “good tidings of great joy.” The angel didn’t say, “Uh oh, God’s coming to earth—you better clean up your act ASAP.” He didn’t say, “Uh oh, God’s coming to earth to judge you and send most of you to hell.” No, the angel brought them “good tidings of great joy,” good tidings that would “be to all people” [italics mine]. The angel announced that a Savior had come.
Foster writes, “Freedom from anxiety and care forms the basis for celebration. Because we know he cares for us, we can cast all our care upon him.” Living in celebration is living in the freedom that comes from trusting God. In the Old Testament (and based on my research, still today in some places), there was an event called the Year of Jubilee. The word “jubilee” means “celebration,” but what happened during that year was not something our capitalistic society would consider worthy of celebration. During the Year of Jubilee, all land was returned to its original owner and slaves were freed, among other things. Basically, everything reverted to how it had been originally. You could have owned land for 49 years and grown a farm worthy of Farmville glory, but in the fiftieth year, you had to give it all back.
Leviticus 25:10 is a commandment regarding the Year of Jubilee: “You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants.” Yet the verse has a twist that might surprise us in our “claw your way to the top” culture. It goes on to say, “It shall be a jubilee for you.” Giving up your land shall be a celebration for you. Because the people trusted God to provide, they could celebrate as they gave away everything.
You see, I think that a lot of times we think of celebration and joy as fleeting feelings dependent on our circumstances and out of our control. To be a spiritual discipline, however, celebration has to require action. It has to be something we can discipline ourselves into doing (or try to, even if we fail). Foster says, “In the spiritual life only one thing will produce genuine joy, and that is obedience…To elicit genuine celebration, obedience must work itself into the ordinary fabric of our daily lives.” Practicing the spiritual disciplines (even if we fail) and striving to be obedient lead us to a deeper relationship with God. Even the secular world would say that when you’re doing what you’re meant to do is when you experience your greatest happiness. And because we are made to have a relationship with God, it is in fellowship with him that we will experience our deepest, greatest joy.
So how do we implement the discipline of Celebration into our daily lives as an action? Of course, we can celebrate holidays in a way that honors God. We can celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and weddings in a way that honors God. We can celebrate accomplishments and milestones in school and our careers in a way that honors God. We can learn to laugh at ourselves and at funny jokes. We can sing and dance and celebrate relationships with each other and with God.
We always hear that we should “let our light shine” and that we should stand out. The discipline of celebration a way we can “let our light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). After all, Jesus said, “I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Foster writes, “Of all people, we should be the most free, alive, interesting. Celebration adds a gaiety, festivity, hilarity to our lives.”
Yes, we should live our lives without a care for worldly things, without idolizing riches or fame or pleasure. But also, we should live our lives with hope and joy and celebration unlike anything the world has ever seen! The Christ has come, and he has brought good tidings of great joy that will be to all people. The Savior has come, and he has brought good tidings of great joy that are to all people.
The Christ has come. Is that not reason to celebrate?