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“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground…the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading….Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:5-10). 

I know I’m dating myself but the 1980 Kool and the Gang Song Celebrate comes to mind when I think of a celebration. Its rhythmic chant tends to stick in your head. Unfortunately, I never really could connect with the song because I can’t dance (Trust me, I’m indescribably awful!). And the song tells me to dance. But I can identify with a New Year’s Eve party or the rejoicing that accompanies your team winning the Super Bowl (Yeah Packers!), NCAA Tournament (Go Vols! I still believe you can do it!), or World Series (poor Cub fans). Entire communities go nuts when that kind of thing happens. For many these are events deserving of a huge party. And that’s the point: we only celebrate those things we consider of great significance and worthy of our exuberant praise. And such should be the case with our faith as well; I think even more so! 

The Old Testament, like this example in Nehemiah 8 of Israel pausing to honor the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall destroyed by the Babylonians, is filled with feasts and festivals. They include Sabbath, Yom Kippur, Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath Year Feasts, Rosh Kodesh, Feast of Purim, and Jubilee (Ironically, there is no indication this celebration was ever practiced by the Jewish people. For a foreshadowing of my next post, see: http://captivatedbychrist.org/2010/12/28/jubilee-2011/). I would urge you to find a Bible Encyclopedia and do some research on these events. I think you will find the principles in these celebrations quite insightful and practical. God instituted these and others as a means to praise Him, unify, restore and cleanse His people, and build their faith. There are striking themes in these celebrations; focus on God’s goodness, eating and drinking, rejoicing in community, rest from work, praise, memorializing God’s sovereign guidance, the reading of His Word, and blessing. These celebrations were designated for certain times to commemorate specific events. 

Here are some things that I gather from God’s intention of His people celebrating: 

  • We often fail to stop from our labors and celebrate God.
  • We need to occasionally pause and rest in God’s goodness.
  • Celebration is facilitated by community.
  • Setting apart a specific time to rejoice in the Lord is a valuable spiritual discipline.
  • We need to practice celebrating Him as an overflow of the joy He brings to us and for His mercies.
  • Today, for His children, Jesus is the sum and source of our ability to joyfully celebrate: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8). 

This is why we have “Celebration Wednesday” at our house. It was strategically chosen to fall in the middle of our hectic work week, when we are often prone to lose sight of God’s overwhelming goodness towards us. During dinner Rebekah and I shut down any possible distractions (TVs, mobile phones, computers, etc. – OK, our cats are sometimes hard to herd) and, while enjoying God’s provision of food, we start with a Scripture that speaks to God’s goodness towards His children. Then we begin to recite lists we’ve made during the week or spontaneous thoughts on the blessings God has showered on us, both “big” and “small” ones. It is a very intentional time of rejoicing in God and His goodness. We verbalize His blessings and then have a time of prayer for the specific things we have recalled. Then she creates a journal entry to memorialize what we discussed and celebrated. 

I encourage you to try it. This practice is not intended to be some obligatory duty, some religious exercise devoid of deep-seated and sincere meaning. It is designed to reflect genuine joy and marvel over God’s guidance and provision. I know it encourages and edifies us. It helps us to see the bigger picture of life and focus on an infinitely generous, caring, and loving God. And that, my friends, is truly worth celebrating. Because, after all, He is worth celebrating!

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“Count off seven sabbaths of years–seven times seven years–so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property” (Leviticus 25:8-13).

This is but a section of the Old Testament passage on God’s plan for His people to celebrate this special year – the Year of Jubilee. It was to take place every fifty years and it was announced with a special trumpet. In the Hebrew language the word translated “jubilee” literally means blowing a ram’s horn.  This horn is called a “shofar” and is still used in Hebrew worship today.  This sabbatical year was to benefit every inhabitant of the land. The Year of Jubilee was like a national holiday that lasted for 365 days! And symbolically it was to commence as the horn blew on the sacred Day of Atonement. Ironically, there is no evidence that the Hebrews ever celebrated the Year of Jubilee. This may have been due to their disobedience or the Babylonian captivity but, from all indications, over 30 possible occurrences of the Jubilee year passed without its observation. That is until the coming of Jesus. And maybe this was God’s sovereign plan. After all, it was Christ’s atonement that ushered in the spiritual reality of the true meaning of this celebration.

Jesus Himself claimed that he was the fulfillment of this Year of Jubilee (called the year of the Lord’s favor):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

There are at least four lessons in the Year of Jubilee that foreshadow the ultimate fulfillment of its benefits as found in Christ. These are:

  • A revocation of debt. The Israelites were relieved of their financial debt and through faith in the finished work of Christ we are absolved of our sin-debt (see Romans 6:23) before a righteousness demanding God. As Paul explained, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • A release from slavery. On this 50th year all slaves were to be released from their bondage and prisoners set free. We, too, through the power of Jesus and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit are released from the fetters of our sinful nature. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). Paul mentions this idea in Romans 7:5 and 8:9 as well.
  • A return home: all land was to return to its original family/owner during the Year of Jubilee. This reminds us of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). The loving arms of his father were extended to his wandering son and their reunion instigated the child’s complete restoration and a great celebration of joy. We, too, through Jesus are, in a sense, spiritually re-united with God the Father.
  • A renewal and rest. During this celebration no one was to plant or harvest crops; the children of Israel were to live off God’s special extra provisions from the previous year; and the land was to rest so it could be renewed. In a similar sense being “in Christ” we experience eternal renewal and rest as we trust in His supernatural provision. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28).

As we look to the New Year may we see it as our Year of Jubilee. And how can we do this? By focusing on Jesus and His spiritual provision. For He alone has revoked our sin-debt, released us from the slavery of the law and the power of sin, allowed us to find our home in Him, and causes us to be renewed by the refreshment that comes from resting in Him. As we bid adieu to 2009 and stride boldly into 2010 may we be ever mindful of this word from God: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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