In the family I grew up in, we went all out for our loved one’s birthdays. In my childhood home, birthdays were a big deal. We would hang up streamers in the living room, blow up balloons, hang up a Happy Birthday banner, wrap presents and have “breakfast in bed.” One of our favorite parts of the birthday day is eating our meals on the red “You are Special Today” plate. I have carried all of these things into my adult home and my children have readily embraced these traditions. They LOVE birthdays. Even their favorite stuffed animals have birthday celebrations several times a year.
I share this because I am writing this devotion on Tuesday, May 23rd which happens to be my sweet husband’s 38th birthday and it got me thinking about what a birthday is really celebrating. It comes around every year, but I believe there is deep meaning behind this celebration. One of my favorite spiritual leaders Henri Nouwen, writes this:
“Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: “Thank you for being you.” Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: “Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.” No, we say: “Thank you for being born and being among us.”
What a helpful reminder to celebrate being known and being amongst us in a world that has its own measurements for success. Frequently our worth is measured by something else. Maybe our worth in this world is measured by the framed degrees on our walls, the money in our bank accounts, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the people we are social with, the schools or teams are children are a part of, and the list goes on and on. But when I think about how much God loved the world, Jesus’ incarnation showed us that the Father measures the things of the heart and the worth of the soul.
When we celebrate the life of a loved one, we are remembering that we are a better person, more loving, gentle, and giving because that loved one influenced us. Or to quote the prayer prayed at a Celebration of Life Service:
“Eternal God, you have shared with us the life of Robert.
Before he was ours, he is yours.
For all that Robert has given us to make us what we are,
for that of him which lives and grows in each of us,
and for his life that in your love will never end,
we give you thanks.”
Did you notice that? For that of him which lives and grows in each of us…what a beautiful way to say that our lives matter. And so if birthdays are really truly about exalting life and gratitude for those that live life amongst us, then how can we begin to celebrate the birthday of the body of Christ?
This Sunday is Pentecost, and along with the gift of the Holy Spirit and how God’s spirit brought order to chaos, we are celebrating the birthday of the Church. We are remembering the ways in which the Church of Jesus Christ exalts life and lives amongst us. Not as a building, or style of music or order of service or charisma of a preacher, but the Church, the body of Christ exalts life and lives amongst us.
And so the question I leave with you this week for you to chew on and talk to others about it this. How are you apart of the body that is living amongst the world, making it more vibrant, telling others that they matter? How are you making people feel special and loved and treating them like they matter to the Creator of the Universe? How are you acting like Birthday Party people in a world that really needs more balloons, more red “You are Special Today” plates and definitely more cake?
There is a party coming and we are all invited. Will you join in on the celebration? Happy Birthday to you!
We encourage you to wear RED this Sunday in celebration of Pentecost! Learn more about this special day at the link below.