by John Morris
Granddaughter number 3 (grandchild number 4) is a few weeks off her first birthday. Kendra is getting close to walking and then the locks will have to be tightened as little feet convey the lovely little child to attractive things that want exploring.
A birthday party - certainly - though it will not mean a lot to Kendra, it is part of the family bonding process with her sister and cousins looking forward to the occasion equally as will the adult members of the family.
I like birthday celebrations - other people's that is- it is a time for fellowship and enjoyment, but also a time for reflection.
Most people would associate the word celebration with partying, fun, happy times, merriment and joy, and if you were writing the King James Version of the bible you would be talking about wassailing - a Saxon New Years custom- we don't use the word anymore.
Celebrate is a great word. It is one of those English language phenomena that has a big synonym family - 4 main branches for this word (this by the way is not going to be an English tutorial) just the way that seemed right to lead into the celebration study.
- Branch 1 - Mark or commemorate … Hold, keep, honour, recognize, observe, memorialize
- Branch 2 - Perform or officiate … Sanctify, hallow, consecrate, ritualize.
- Branch 3 - Paint the town red … Party, revel, rejoice, have a good time, make merry
- Branch 4 - Praise or laud … Extol, exalt, glorify, eulogise, immortalize, lionize.
There is not a clear divide between the groupings and some of the synonyms will fit into more than one usage branch.
The relevant event, or the reason for the celebration may not always be positive or right, and you can see as we run through an example or two that this is the case and why it is still the right thing to do - to celebrate an event.
Take Gallipoli as an example. The event was a major defeat of the allied armies whose commanding officers appear to have made a mass of wrong decisions. The Anzacs could not defeat the Turkish forces and made a famous retreat. Yet today we celebrate the event not for the defeat but for the marking of a change in the hearts and minds of Australia and New Zealand. Today the defeat is a positive unifying force that is recognized as something of an Aussie Mecca for many.
Military examples are easy to find. Reflect for a moment on the position of the allied forces facing the English Channel at Dunkirk. The German blitzkrieg had forced its way nearly to the channel and Hitler was itching to begin the invasion of England. Britain realized that the battle was lost and 345,000 British troops were shipped across the channel to fight another day. Winston Churchill called the event "a miracle of deliverance" and there are many stories that can only be called miracles during that time.
As I reflected on my granddaughter's coming birthday, I thought of 4 stories from the Bible of women worth celebrating - 3 are well known - one is an unknown.
Miriam, older than both Moses and Aaron is described as a prophetess by scripture, the first female to be so identified. Our first contact with Miriam was on the banks of the Nile when the Egyptian princess discovered Moses in the basket by the banks of the river. Miriam, you may remember, offered to find a nurse for the lad. Not perfect, she complained about Moses' leadership during the exodus and was stricken with leprosy.
Miriam added to the celebrations that developed after the crossing of the Red Sea. From being one of those who were afraid when their passage from Egypt was stopped at the Red Sea, Miriam became the nation's cheer leader on the other side.
Exodus 15 describes the explosion of joy beginning with Moses' song of deliverance, to Miriam's leading the nation's ladies into a joyous expression of thankfulness and acknowledgement of God's protection and salvation (at age 90). The expression was physical and melodious with a combination of dance with tambourine (or small drums as some translations suggest) combined with the key words from Moses' poetry.
"Sing to the Lord for He is highly exalted
The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea".
The exercise was a celebration of deliverance.
Esther easily won the Miss Medo-Persia contest - a Miss Universe contest. Her father and mother died when she was very young and she was looked after by her cousin, who kindly brought her fully into the family by adopting her. In her early 20's she was selected to be the next Queen.
Esther was asked by Mordecai to stand for the right, to put her life on the line, to do the impossible, to go into the King and plead for her life and that of her people. The king had not called her for 30 days. The action was risky. The record tells that when Xerxes saw Esther, he was pleased with her, and held out the sceptre indicating acceptance of her interruption.
Talk about "butterflies in the stomach"! Just getting that sceptre held out was only part of the job. The biggest hurdle was yet to come. How do you tell a king that the one that he appointed to be number 2 in the kingdom was an evil oaf, self centred, and intent on deleting from his kingdom people who were active and loyal subjects?
After receiving permission for the Jews to act in their own defence and winning the "battle" Mordecai sent letters to the Jewish people to commend them to celebrate the deliverance from their enemy. Esther followed up with confirmation instructions "Esther's decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records. The feat is still celebrated today by Jewish people (it will be on March 20 - 23 this year - 2008).
3. The Widow.
The Jewish economy (along with those of other nations of the time) did not provide a superannuation programme or a widow's pension. If you were a widow you got by with a little housekeeping, washing and ironing to get just enough to put food on the table. Regardless of the finances, this little lady was very supportive of the work of the church and made it a regular practice to present an offering when she was able. On this occasion she was noticed by a young rabbi on the opposite side of the square and heard him comment to his followers.
Do not think that Jesus' comments to his disciples about the widows offering were whispered. Jesus meant the widow to know that her offering was appreciated and was regarded as of great worth. Even though definitely poor, she had put in all she had. The next meal was going to be a problem. She needed the commendation just as much as the disciples needed to reflect on the contrast between those who had preceded her with the ostentatious giving, out of their abundance - they could afford to give, she couldn't.
Desire of Ages (1) expands the picture. "Tears of joy filled her eyes as she felt that her act was understood and appreciated… Jesus understood her motive… She did what she could and her act was to be a monument to her memory through all time, and her joy in eternity."
Without a name, a non-entity, a widow, yet hers was an act worth celebrating, celebrating her sincerity, her devotion, her commitment, and her great love for God. Just think of the results of the gift of 2 small almost worthless coins. The coins and the incident have generated far more in love gifts to God than any of the larger contributions that preceded her act of love.
4. Mary Magdalene
Mary, sister to Martha and Lazarus led a very chequered life. Driven by the devil at times she had no hope until that episode in the temple where she was dragged by Scribes and Pharisees who had trapped her. When Jesus said "go and sin no more" hope was planted and began to grow.
But how to say thanks, how to let Jesus know how she felt, how to demonstrate that a major change had been wrought within, was a problem for Mary.
The answer took her life savings. The perfume cost a year's wages for John Citizen, the ordinary bloke on the average wage. Judas knew it. He was jealous of the fact that the money had been spent on perfume, which would be gone within the day when it could have been in his hands for dispensing to "the poor", poor Judas that is.
Embarrassing it was for Mary to front up in a feast where everyone knew of her past with no way of doing what she was about to do secretly. Perfume is meant to be recognized through the sense of smell and there was no way that this fragrance could be stopped from wafting over the room and its occupants. Mary had bought the perfume for anointing the body of Jesus. She seemed to be a little more aware of Jesus' coming death. Jesus had been telling the disciples but it did not sink in. The Holy Spirit moved Mary to act while Jesus lived rather than wait until she would adorn a lifeless body.
Jesus made it quite clear that he understood her actions and accepted the act of love. He used the demonstration to get a point across to Simon also, who followed Jesus, but not fully at this time, that love is not just a head acknowledgement but something that moves people to action.
This celebration, this act of love, Jesus stated, would be told wherever the gospel was preached throughout the world as a memorial of Mary's actions and of Mary.
Lessons for us today?
Of course there are!
1. Be ready to celebrate God's love for us with praise.
2. Be ready to celebrate those who stick their necks out for God
3. Be ready to celebrate those who give of themselves.
4. Be ready to celebrate with acts of love. Love is meant to be active not passive, but is not something that can be forced. Only by love is love awakened.
Granddaughter of mine - we will shortly celebrate the first anniversary of your coming into the world. We look forward to helping you to learn of Jesus and celebrating his life.
White E G, Desire of Ages. Pacific Press Publishing Association Mountain View California 1940. p 615.
This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2008 by John L Morris. Used by permission.
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