I remember a few years ago sitting, watching the sunrise. It was a typical misty Irish morning and there was a magical stillness in the air. Something happened that day that I didn’t see coming. You see I grew up in church. I’ve been surrounded by the fact that Jesus loves me since I was born but that day, something new flooded my soul. My eyes were opened and I was totally overwhelmed by the reality of God, that I was not alone, lost in life, that I was not condemned but that I was free. I don’t know what happened but this all uncontrollable urge took over me. I jump on my feet and started sprinting through the fields like a wild man, laughing and crying with pure joy. That was my first taste of the art of celebration.
Since that day I’ve learned that life has a way of draining that childlike wonder from us, whether through our own failures or disappointments, whether it’s suffering or betrayal, or even just familiarity. That’s why we put up our defenses, isn’t it? That’s why we become numb. We pull back from life and become spectators because we’re afraid of being hurt again. The good news is Jesus is always doing a new thing. He’s not finished with us yet. We may doubt. We may feel like we are broken beyond repair but he is the peace in our troubled sea. He is the healer of the brokenhearted.
Recently, we made a theological breakthrough as a community and it’s changed everything about our approach. We realized that seriousness is not a fruit of the spirit but joy is.
You see there’s an irrepressible laughter in the heart of God and whole universe cannot contain it. He is the one who invented celebrations and feasting and holidays. He is the one who sings and dances over us. When he suffered the cross, he did it for the joy set before him and that joy was knowing that you and I would be fully free, no longer captive to our sin. Yes, the whole human story is described in terms of a celebration. The marriage of Christ to his bride, the church. Our God is the ultimate artist of celebration. The inventor of the party and the healer of the broken.
Happiness is not the same thing as joy. Happiness is an emotion, a superficial response to pleasant circumstances, but joy is deeper. It’s a spiritual discipline. We, as people, are much more inclined towards negativity and cynicism. We don’t find it easy or even natural to pursuit joy, and that’s why God and his word actually command us to celebrate. We must wrestle for our blessing. We must fight for our joy. How do we then remind ourselves as a wounded church family that we still have a reason to sing? How do we move from the edges and fringes of the party into the center?
The Bible says taste and see that the Lord is good, and to do that, we have to once again open up our hearts to wonder and beauty. I’m not saying to be fake or put on a false smile, but rather to always find a reason to rejoice even if we’re in the darkest circumstances. We come with the gospel worth celebrating before our celebrating came. And we think our response as worshipers should be obvious. We need to get down to the serious business of joy because the joy of the Lord is our strength, and after all, heaven is going to be the greatest party of all time and we need to start practicing now.
So don’t get caught up on your guilt or failure. You are forgiven. You are free and you’re worth more to God than you could ever imagine. Come on, with a childlike heart, wide-eyed with wonder, let’s rediscover the art of celebration.
– Gareth Gilkeson @ Rend Collective