Many thanks to everyone for your wishes for my birthday. It was a wonderful day for celebrating and for worship.
Our gospel reading this week was from Mark 10, the story of the rich, young ruler. He had a deep desire to know God beyond the normal “good living” of the day. He already followed the rules, but wanted something more. Unfortunately, when challenged with leaving everything behind to follow Jesus, he decided he wanted his “stuff” more than following Christ. Our challenge for this week was to examine our lives and determine what we are holding as more important than filling that “God-shaped hole” in our spirits.
Speaking of birthdays, I did a little research on birthday celebrations. In some cultures, birthdays aren’t even celebrated, and in some Asian countries everyone becomes a year older on the celebration of the new year, despite when they were born. In other countries, two birthdays are celebrated: a person’s actual date of birth and the feast day of the saint whose name they were given. Some traditions include a birthday cake with items baked into it. Folklore says that if you get the piece with the coin, you will be rich someday.
There are some strange traditions. In England, the friends lift the birthday person in the air by his hands and feet and raise him up and down to the floor, one for each year, and then “one for luck, two for luck and three for the old man’s coconut!” A second one is from Atlantic Canada, such as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, where the birthday child is ambushed and their nose is greased for good luck. The greased nose makes the child too slippery for bad luck to catch them (from http://www.birthdaycelebrations.net).
Birthday celebrations have become big business. I have to admit, I have been a part of prolonging that business with my kids! Around the world birthdays are celebrated with family and friends, a time to be thankful for another year of life. I know that some of us, women especially, don’t like to celebrate or announce our ages, yet there is something intrinsically valuable about celebrating the anniversary of our birth.
In Psalm 23, having already stated that the Lord is his shepherd, the psalmist also states “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” I think that is a good start to our plan for celebrating the anniversary of our birth. Every birthday celebration should include a time of thankfulness for God’s care throughout the year that is past and a prayer for the years to come.
Proverbs states, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” The start of a new year is also a good time to remember and to honor those who have gone before. In many cultures of the world, a child receives gifts only after honoring his or her parents, a practice that is kind of lost on our society. An important gift we can give to our children, to our friends, and to ourselves, is to stop and consider our lives in light of God’s wisdom.
A birthday celebration is a time to be thankful, but it isn’t a time for pride or arrogance. Jesus told the story of the rich fool, who was having a tremendously successful harvest (Luke 12). He tore down his barns, built new ones, and said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But that night his number was up, and his riches and possessions were left behind. As you celebrate your birthday or someone else’s, take time to catalog your blessings and possessions, but do so in order to be thankful.
A time of celebration can also be a time to share with others. Several years ago, a friend invited me to her birthday tea. She told me that in her tradition the birthday person invites friends over to celebrate, and the hostess gives gifts to her friends. What a novel idea!
James wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” When celebrating our birthdays and other special occasions, we can glorify God by using the opportunity to give gifts to others. Celebrating a birthday is a great time to care for those less fortunate or to do something nice for someone else.
Several years ago, my daughter wanted to have a birthday party but wanted to invite too many kids. As a compromise, I offered to let her invite as many children as she wanted IF she agreed to designate her party for a charity. She chose the food pantry here in Springfield. Twenty-some children, a birthday cake, and several games of bowling later, we had 6-7 boxes of food to deliver to Crosslines, and all the kids had a great time. The next year her friends brought items for the C.A.R.E. animal shelter. These parties cost me a little bit more, but the joy of knowing my daughter and her friends were helping others was worth it.
Whether you admit your age or not, when your birthday rolls around, why not include these four practices as a part of your celebration: Thank God for the years of your life, remember the things you have learned and take time to honor those who have cared for you, inventory your life and your possessions and be thankful to God for all you have received, and take the time to share your blessings with others.
Whether it is your birthday or not, my prayer is that you will be blessed as you seek God’s grace and recognize God’s goodness in your life.
Pastor Mary Kay