A Serious Celebration Tracy Bruce November 1 Exodus 12:14-20It seems as if many events in our lives revolve around celebrations. When two people decide to marry, they celebrate with a wedding ceremony and reception; then every year they celebrate an anniversary. When people get new job, they celebrate their new employment; when they are promoted, they celebrate their promotions; and when it’s time to leave, they celebrate their retirements. When someone completes school, we celebrate graduations; when someone is born, we celebrate the birth; when someone dies, we celebrate his or her life. We soon will be celebrating Thanksgiving; and if the Lord allows us to live, we will celebrate Christmas. We have many different kinds of celebrations, and we have many different ideas about what it means to celebrate. On wedding anniversaries, one spouse may want celebrate by going to the opera and out to dinner, while the other may want to celebrate by going to a football game; and on occasion, one spouse has celebrated without the other spouse. That is why on many wedding anniversaries, the celebration often turns into a dispute because what one spouse views as a celebration is not necessarily a celebration to the other spouse. So what does it mean to celebrate? Webster’s dictionary tells us to celebrate is “to perform a sacrament or solemn ceremony publicly with appropriate rites, to honor someone or something by refraining from ordinary business, to observe a notable occasion with festivities.” Although millions of people celebrate the holidays, most people do not know what the celebrations really are about. Some people view holidays as just another day to party. The definition says a celebration is to refrain from ordinary business. In other words, we are to put aside school work and take a day off work to enjoy ourselves, to take a rest from the norm. For some people, celebrating is the norm. All they do is party. They constantly talk about a party they went to, a party they are going to attend or a party they are planning. So when someone says, “Let’s celebrate,” it has no significance for that person. For some, a celebration is viewed as just another opportunity to eat too much. Most of our holidays are nothing more than eating frenzies with no real meaning behind the celebration. Some people go from house to house looking for something to eat: “I’ll go to Aunt Sue’s house, because she has sweet potato pie.” “I’ll go my sister’s house, because she made ham.” “I’ll go to Mama’s house, because she made chitterlings.” Such people are not thinking about the meaning of the celebration, but about food. Jesus said in John 6:26, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” In other words,”You are not looking for Me. You just came to see if there was any food left.” In my research for this sermon, I called several people and asked if they knew what the meaning was of our celebrations of certain holidays, and no one knew the reason why we celebrate. Many people don’t know why they celebrate or who they celebrate; and after a few drinks, they don’t know where they are celebrating. Is the meaning behind the holiday just not that serious? A Serious CelebrationIn our text, God is instructing the Israelites about who they are to celebrate. He said, “Celebrate a festival unto the Lord.” God made it perfectly clear that He is the One who is to be celebrated. So why would God specifically have to say He is the One to be celebrated, that He is the One to be honored? Because we celebrate many holidays, but most of them are about spending money and honoring men rather than God. In January, we celebrate Martin Luther King. On Valentines Day, we celebrate our husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and Cupid. On Easter, we celebrate bunnies, baskets and clothes. On Mothers’ Day, we celebrate our mothers. On Memorial Day, we celebrate soldiers. On Father’s Day, we celebrate our fathers. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. On Labor Day, we celebrate American workers. Halloween is to celebrate Satan. Thanksgiving is to celebrate Pilgrims and Indians. Christmas is celebrated with Santa, reindeers and material possessions. So where, then, is God being celebrated? How many times during our holiday celebrations is God mentioned before and after grace is said? God doesn’t mind if we celebrate but He doesn’t want to be left out of the celebrations. When we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, don’t forget to celebrate the One who said, “When father and mother forsake you, I will take you up.” When we celebrate Memorial Day, it’s all right to remember the soldiers who died for our country, but don’t neglect the One who died for our salvation. When we take the Lord’s Supper, He said to do so “in remembrance of Me.” That is our Memorial Day. Easter is not about dying eggs, but about Christ dying on the cross. It is not about buying clothes, but about being bought with a price. Furthermore, this whole Santa thing puzzles me. God is our ultimate Provider. He supplies the resources; He gives the parents the jobs; the parents go to work and buy the gifts; and Santa gets the credit. How does that happen? God knew this would happen, which is why God gave the instructions about who to celebrate—He knew people would begin to celebrate everyone and everything accept Him; He doesn’t want His people to stop celebrating Him. The Word also says, “for generations to come.” In other words, you shall celebrate Me; your children, grandchildren, their children and their children are all to celebrate holidays as a festival to the Lord. After you tell them who to celebrate, then you are to tell them what the celebration is all about. The celebration God told the Israelites to celebrate and remember was their deliverance. He said, “Tell the children how Pharaoh would not let you go; but tell them how I turned their river into blood, how I filled the land of Egypt with gnats and frogs; tell them how I struck dead the firstborn male in every Egyptian household; tell them how I parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s army in order to deliver My people and set them free.” That’s what He said to the Israelites, but what He is saying to us is that in many homes on Christmas Eve, people tell their children the story “The Night Before Christmas,” but He wants His people to tell the story of the birth of His Son and how He sent His Son to bring us out of bondage. Celebrate, but celebrate your deliverance. Tell the children how God set African Americans free from slavery. Tell the children how you were sold as slaves, separated from your families, had to pick cotton from sun up to sun down, how you were beaten with whips and how you were lynched; tell them how I, (not Abraham Lincoln) declared the Emancipation Proclamation to set the slaves free. It was I, the Lord your God, who proclaimed that I heard my people’s cry and declared they had had enough, and I set them free from slavery. After 400 years of slavery by the Egyptians, I would say God delivering the Israelite’s from bondage is a notable occasion to celebrate Him. After hundreds of years of slavery of African Americans in the United States, I would say God delivering us is a notable occasion to celebrate. If you notice of all the holidays we celebrate from January to December, none include African Americans being freed from slavery. They celebrate their independence from Britain, but they don’t celebrate our independence from them. Still, that should not stop us from celebrating our God who delivered us out of their hands and set us free; and had He not set us free, we would not be free to pursue our dreams. I would say God delivering us from slavery is a notable occasion to celebrate our God. God said celebrate Him because human nature dictates that if we are not celebrating other people were celebrating ourselves. We want to buy things for ourselves and justify it because we work hard. When we treat ourselves, we usually end up eating too much or spending too much. Besides, treating ourselves means we’re celebrating ourselves, and Jesus never said, “Treat yourself.” He said, “Deny yourself.” He said, “If your ways please Me, I will give you the desires of your heart.” In other words, you do the denying, and I’ll do the treating; you send up the praises, and I’ll send down the blessings. He knows how to treat us better than we know how to treat ourselves. Some people are so focused on celebrating themselves they are telling Jesus what they want for Christmas and it’s His birthday! Many people who normally celebrate, including Christians, say they will not celebrate this year because the economy is so bad. However, the Word of God says, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth. In view of the state of the economy, that is all the more reason to give Him thanks. People are losing their jobs, but you still have yours. People are losing their homes and cars, but you still have yours. People are losing their minds, but you still have a sound mind; and God is still providing for us. Our love for God and our thanksgiving to Him is not predicated on the state of the economy, because His Word also says, “I was young, and now am old; yet I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging bread.” Oh, I will celebrate Him. The Bible says unto us a child is born, a Son is given; He is our Lord, He is our Savior. If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on stuff, then don’t do it; but don’t stop celebrating Jesus. Don’t stop singing “Silent Night” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” You don’t have to celebrate the commercialized way, but don’t stop celebrating the commanded way. The economy did not stop the people from celebrating Satan on Halloween. The economy did not stop people from spending billions of dollars on candy and demonic costumes, and it’s not going to stop me from celebrating my God. There are some religions that do not believe in celebrations at all—not birthdays, Christmas or anything else. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have a god worth celebrating. When you serve the Most High God, that’s a reason to celebrate. When you won’t praise men and they throw into a lion den, and God brings you out, that’s a God worth celebrating. When men get upset with you and throw you into a fiery furnace and your God comes and snatches you out and you don’t even smell like smoke, that is a God worth celebrating. When you have a God who can part a Red Sea and make demons flee, that’s a God worth celebrating. If celebrations are serious enough for God to give us instructions regarding them, that means they are serious to Him. If they are serious to Him, they should be serious to us. Celebration is serious to God because He doesn’t want the focus of our celebrations to be taken off of Him. If people don’t know the One who they celebrate, they will end up confused about who they are celebrating. We know people are confused about who they celebrate, which is why we see people decorating their homes for Christmas and Halloween. When I walk down the street, there are homes with Santa and Mrs. Clause on one side of the porch and a nativity scene on the other side of the porch. There are bars with Christmas signs and decorations in the window. You can’t celebrate two masters. Television commercials say, “Let’s celebrate the magic of Christmas.” Christmas and magic do not belong in the same sentence. Magic is demonic and has absolutely nothing to do with Christ. As a matter of fact, Revelation 22:15 says those who practice the magic arts will not enter heaven. What they call magic is not really magic; what they are trying to capture through feelings and material possessions is the spirit of peace that Christ brought to Earth, but without a relationship with Him that peace cannot be obtained. God told the Israelites who to celebrate and what to celebrate; now He is telling us how to celebrate. Why would God have to tell us how to celebrate? Because people think they know how to celebrate when they really don’t. When people celebrate in their own way, embarrassments and tragedies occur. When people celebrate at the annual Christmas office party, they end up engaging in unprofessional, immoral and embarrassing behavior and coming to work with their heads hung down in shame because of their behavior during their so-called celebration. Teenagers think they know how to celebrate, but they don’t; that’s why many prom nights end in tragedy. Many prom nights are often the last night of life for many teenagers who feel the need to smoke weed, speed around in rented cars and end up killing themselves; or their celebrations end up thrusting them into parenthood before their time; and in some cases they end up with AIDS because they think they know how to celebrate. Although we think we do, we don’t know how to celebrate. Some of our celebrations involve discrimination. When Jesus was born, the Bible says the Magi brought gifts to the baby. In other words, this was the world’s first baby shower. Men are not permitted at baby showers today. That’s discrimination. They were a part of the conception. Why can’t they be a part of the celebration? We take celebrations too lightly, but celebrations are serious to God. Christmas is about the birth of His only begotten Son, and God is very serious about Jesus Christ. Just as we want people to celebrate when a son is born to us, God wants us to celebrate the birth of His Son. Couples get excited when they know they are expecting a child. That child is so special to them they want to announce it to the world, but there is nothing they can do or say that compares to how excited God was about the birth of His Son, Jesus. To announce the birth of our children, we send e-mails; to announce the birth of His Son, God sent a host of angels. When our children are born, we give directions to the house so everyone can stop by and see the new baby. God put a star in the sky so everyone can stop by and see the new baby. New parents get excited about picking the child’s name, and that’s all right; but it still won’t be a knee-bowing, tongue-confessing name such as Jesus. God says to us, “I know your children are special to you. That’s why you will stand out in the cold for hours and hours to make sure they get that one special gift they wanted. You will give your sons cell phones, computers and just about anything else they want. You want to make sure you give them the gifts that make them happy, but how many of you would take your sons, put bows on them and give them to someone else as a gift, knowing the people to whom you were sending them as gifts would beat them, hang them in crosses and crucify them? That is exactly what I did for you. When you work hard, when you struggle to buy your child a special gift, and you can’t wait to see the look on his or her face—but then they open the gift and don’t like it…They say to you, ‘I don’t want that gift,’ you become hurt. Likewise, when I sent My Son as a gift and people wouldn’t accept Him as Lord and Savior, what they were saying to Me is, ‘I don’t want that gift,’ that hurts Me, too.” Sometimes parents won’t try to force the gift on the child. They will just take it back. The Bible says children are gifts from the Lord, but every day on the news, we see children being neglected, abused, raped, beaten, murdered. If people don’t start treating His gifts better, He just might start taking them back. God gave instructions about when the celebration should begin and end. He told His people what to do on the first and last days of the celebration. He said, “Celebrate the festival for seven days.” Most of us can’t put up with some of our family members for seven hours. Why would God give a time frame for the celebration? Because some people just don’t know when to quit. They don’t know when to go home. The meal is over, the fellowship is over, the other guests have left, the host is falling asleep, and some people are still sitting there. That’s why He gave a timeline for the celebration. God also gave instructions about who should be on the guest list. Often our celebrations end up in disaster because we don’t know who not to invite. In most families, there is always one or two people who are going to ruin the celebration for everyone; but we think we have an obligation to invite everyone because they are family. God said whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. In other words, they must be cut off from the family, whether alien or native. He said if they don’t know how to act, don’t invite them; if they don’t want to abide by the rules, cut them off. Maybe if they spend a few holidays alone, they’ll know how to act the next time they are invited. Holiday celebrations can be wonderful events if done according to God’s will, so don’t allow anyone to say you cannot celebrate. Just know that to God celebration is serious. However, His seriousness is different from our seriousness. We’re seriousness about who’s going to sit where and if we’ll have enough food for everyone. Our seriousness to turns into stress, but God said be anxious for nothing. He wants us to celebrate, but to remove the sin—the drunkenness, gambling, over-spending, gluttony, foul language, arguing, backbiting, immorality and stress. God said celebrate your deliverance. However, celebrating our deliverance should not lead us back into bondage. Don’t celebrate by sleeping with someone because it’s the holiday and you’re lonely. Don’t celebrate by over-spending and finding yourself in bondage to debt. In 2 Corinthians, Paul said, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed.” In other words, don’t buy for others when you can’t take care of yourself. Parents should not feel obligated to the latest gadgets, and then be hard pressed to pay the mortgage. Don’t go into debt trying to buy your boss an expensive Christmas gift because you think it will help with your promotion. Promotion comes from God! We do not have to celebrate according to the world’s standards. Celebrating our deliverance and freedom should not put us back on bondage or end in tragedy. In our text, God is talking about celebrating the Passover, but He doesn’t want sin included in any of our celebrations. He is teaching us how to celebrate in preparation for our celebration in glory. Don’t include sin in celebrations here, because there won’t be any in the celebrations in glory. There will be no sin included in the marriage supper of the Lamb. If you want to make a New Year’s resolution again, make sure you resolve not to sin. Don’t celebrate Cupid and his little arrow. Celebrate Me because I watch you and the sparrow. Easter is not about bunnies and baskets, so let Me give a correction. It is only about My shed blood, burial and resurrection. You can remember those who died on Memorial Day, but celebrate Me because in the tomb I did not stay. Celebrate your earthly father, if that’s what you want to do; but celebrate your heavenly Father who sent His Son to your rescue. Celebrate independence from Britain on the Fourth of July, but I’m the One who really set you free when on the cross I came to die. You are not to celebrate Halloween, because that’s on a different level; under no circumstances should you have any fellowship with the devil. Go ahead and buy the children Christmas presents and toys, but don’t forget to teach them how to make a joyful noise. Celebrating holidays, house to house you make your rounds. Will you be ready to celebrate with Me when that trumpet sounds? Whether it’s our children, spouse, mother, father or friend, we do everything in our power to make sure they don’t wake up on Christmas morning without having that special gift; and we ought to do everything in our power to make sure they don’t wake up in eternity without Christ. God bless you.