You know you have great friends when they throw you a party to celebrate a rodent.
I have an unusual love for Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, fascinates me, along with all the traditions that happen at Gobbler’s Knob every year on February 2. I even have this not-so-secret hope of attending the ceremony in Pennsylvania someday.
My friends threw a party one year because they knew how much I love Groundhog Day. They didn’t necessarily care about the occasion, but they wanted to celebrate with me out of friendship and love and kindness. I was touched—not because I truly care that much about Groundhog Day, but because of their thoughtfulness. I felt seen and known.
My awareness was awakened, and a spark of sorts ignited in me as I realized: My friends are celebrating this silly occasion for me. When was the last time I celebrated something that matters to someone else? When did I last celebrate at all?
Why We Celebrate
One night, our small group sat around the kitchen table studying the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.
You might be familiar with this parable of a man who had two sons. The younger one demanded his share of the inheritance and left his family. He proceeded to live a reckless life and lost everything. Eventually he came back to his father and longed just to be treated like a servant. But Scripture tells us that when his father saw him coming, he ran to his son with compassion. The son admitted his sin and declared he wasn’t worthy to be called his father’s son. What was the father’s response?
“But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22–24)
We can gather many lessons from this parable, but let’s focus on one piece: they began to celebrate. We are all sinners; but in Christ, we who were once lost are found. We are alive in Him and will live forever.
One woman in my small group looked up from the parable in Luke 15, incredulous. “We should be having celebrations more often!” she declared. As believers, we have the utmost reason to celebrate. The gospel is the best news for all who put their faith in Christ. According to Luke 2:10, it’s “good news of great joy.” We receive the promise of eternal life and get to experience this life with God’s presence. That is worth celebrating.
Celebration, at its core, is for the purpose of worshiping God. It’s coming before Him with joyous thanks. As we glorify Him, we celebrate as a means to remember, to give thanks, and to love others well. As Gary Thomas says in his book, Sacred Pathways, “The act of celebration reminds us that we have much to be thankful for. God is worthy of great praise, and who else will sing that praise if not those who believe?”1
God’s goodness draws us to celebration. At Christmas and Easter, we celebrate the birth of Jesus and His resurrection. We also celebrate what He has done in the lives of others and in our own. Birthdays are for remembering and giving thanks for a person. Anniversaries mark the significance of a special event.
We celebrate to give thanks to God for what He has done, for what He is doing and will do, and for the people He’s placed in our lives. Sounds like a lot of cause for celebration, don’t you think?
The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psalm 126:3 ESV)
How well are we celebrating?
Celebrating Others Well
I was recently convicted about one particular type of celebration I had been lacking.
“I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
One sinner. If there is a party in heaven for every sinner who repents, shouldn’t we celebrate that here?
When someone gives their life to Jesus, let’s throw a party. We can echo the excitement happening in heaven. Jesus came so that the world would be saved through Him (John 3:17). When that happens with our family, our friends, and our neighbors, may we be the first to rejoice at what God has done!
There is a time and place for celebrations. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” When it is time to celebrate, I don’t want to miss it. Celebration is really an outward expression of joy.
Since celebration is a result of joy, it also produces more joy. Genuine joy drives out selfishness. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason we don’t celebrate more is because we make it about us.
I don’t have time to go pick up decorations.
What if they don’t like this kind of food?
My house is too small. I can’t have a group of people over.
Or our comparison quickly kills the joy.
No one celebrated me this way.
Why do they get a bigger party?
When we turn our focus inward, we lose out on the true joy of celebration. But when celebration is done right, we “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15). It’s an opportunity to look “to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
We can throw big parties or small ones. We can invite a crowd of people or take someone to dinner. We can decorate with streamers and balloons or make handwritten notes of encouragement. Celebration is a demonstration of our love, and it can look different every time.
People matter. Let’s celebrate our friends and neighbors by surprising them with our thoughtfulness. Let’s celebrate the holidays and birthdays, the job offers, new beginnings, and accomplishments. Celebrate the person who keeps showing up in the midst of heartache, the person who just received cancer-free news, the prodigal who comes home, and yes, even groundhogs. Let’s be known for being good celebrators, because as believers, we have the greatest reason to celebrate. His name is Jesus.
1Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 166.