Scripture is saturated with celebration. Whenever God has done something, we throw a party!
So far in Esther we’ve met King Xerxes, the powerful Persian emperor who casts out his queen, Vashti, for disobeying him. He then chooses Esther to be his new queen, because of her great beauty.
Haman, Xerxes’ second-in-command, fancies himself as a bit of a god and demands that all bow down to him. But Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, refuses to bow because of his faith in God (more on this in Esther Pt. 1). Because of this, Haman bears a grudge against God’s people and plots to have them all killed. He tricks Xerxes into sentencing them all to death.
Mordecai urges Esther to do something about this, so she calls on all the people to fast and pray for her. She then approaches the King, risking her life to save her people (see Esther Pt. 2).
As we read in ‘Fit for Purpose’ last week, it was Esther’s God-given gifts (in this case, physical beauty) that won her the favour of the King, allowing her to make her request and expose Haman. The King spares Esthers life, God’s people are saved and the evil Haman is dealt with accordingly (read chapters 8-9 for the gory details).
The book closes with an in-depth explanation of a massive celebration – not just a celebration to be had then but one which is to be celebrated every year, remembering the time God saved them from their enemies.
And it’s not just in Esther that we see celebration. Scripture is saturated with details of feast after feast, festival after festival. Whenever God has done something, we throw a party!
I want to look at another passage. It begins like this:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
To rejoice means to feel and express joy and gladness. Here, Paul is telling all Christians to be joyful always. Are you like that? Is your church like that? Bishop Ken Clarke, a bishop in the Church of Ireland, said about a committee meeting, “If you’re full of the joy of the Lord, won’t somebody please tell your face?”
“If you’re full of the joy of the Lord, won’t somebody please tell your face?”
Richard Foster argues that true joy comes only from obedience. It sounds a little odd, as you’d immediately think of obedience as a bit of a drag, but through obedience to Christ we allow Him to work in our lives, to redeem and restore and therefore we have the only thing worth celebrating: God at work. Having Christ at work in our lives brings joy, and that joy turns to celebration.
The Philippians passage doesn’t just stop at ‘rejoice always’, Paul goes on to give us a helping hand. Here’s the full passage:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Rejoice always. How? Do not be anxious about anything but instead, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
This is all about trust. We are called to be carefree.
This is all about trust. The word used for anxious actually reads more like ‘do not be careful for anything’. We are called to be carefree because we trust God with our anxieties and our well-being. That’s kind of liberating. By trusting in God’s provision for us which He promises us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 6:25-34), we can be carefree, joyful of the things He is doing in our lives and celebrate.
We must distinguish, though, between being carefree and being careless. We can be carefree because we trust in our Father’s provision, but carelessness is unintentional and flippant. We must be careful to ensure we are submitting to Christ alone and then we can be carefree because He looks after us.
This is how obedience ties in. It is our obedience to Him that brings true joy and the carefree spirit.
And what does submitting to Christ look like? Paul helps us out here too.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
We must pursue those things that are good. We must pursue Christ.
We must pursue those things that are good. We must pursue Christ. We must saturate our minds with the things that we know God would want us to seek and flee from those things that are not good for us. Or to put it in the words of Jesus, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
This is obedience.
We see here, therefore, that celebration is not just something we do on occasions, but is in fact a way of life. By living a life of obedience, we live a life of joy, even in the tough times. And this joy creates in us an attitude of celebration. We party, we’re merry, we laugh; because God is good, because He has done, is doing and will do great things.
Augustine of Hippo said “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!” Let us, therefore, submit to Christ and find true joy.
For a more in-depth and far better-put study of the discipline of celebration, see chapter 13 of Richard Foster's timeless Celebration of Discipline, from which the majority of these ideas have undoubtedly been pinched.