“Celebrate good times, come on! There’s a party going on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years.” Back in 1980, Kool and the Gang sang this song, musically pretty catchy but lyrically pretty inane.
There’s a fairly common attitude that we encounter in secular society, calling on us to celebrate for the sake of celebrating. “What are we supposed to celebrate?” Celebration!
Since we’ve been marching, mostly word-by-word, through Psalm 118:24, we find ourselves at the word “rejoice.” That word is a bit more churchy than “celebrate,” but they clearly camp out in the same part of the woods. Does the Bible ask us to celebrate or rejoice mindlessly just for the sake of having a party? Yes and no.
Let’s take “no” first. The first clause of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made,” gives us the reason for our celebration. “What are we supposed to celebrate?” The day that the Lord made. That makes a lot more sense than celebrating for the sake of celebrating. The Hebrew verb translated as “rejoice” here is an intriguing one in that it can convey either happiness or fear. In the Bible, it is exclusively used to convey positive things, but in the broader literature, it can mean “to tremble with fear.” However used, this verb indicates a powerful, emotional response, the sort of feeling that draws out a physical action. We rejoice because of our powerful, emotional response to the awesomeness of God.
On the other side, the verse does seem to call us to rejoice mindlessly. Yes, there’s a reason for us to rejoice, but it’s a reason that comes today and yesterday and tomorrow and for the next year and so on. When we celebrate something every day, the celebration soon becomes second nature and easy to pass aside. I appreciate breathing, but after taking a series of breaths every day for the last fifty-some years, the appreciation has drifted into background noise. It’s the sort of thing that you only notice when it stops.
This verse suggests that we make rejoicing our normal mode of operation, as natural, as commonplace as breathing. We have a reason for our celebration, and that reason should become merely a part of our being.
Kool and the Gang, nearly forty years ago, beckoned us toward “a celebration to last throughout the years,” but in fact this party ended long ago. Yes, the band continues to perform, energizing an audience of boomers who want to have one more big round of celebration before they settle in behind their walkers, but we recognize that nostalgia is not genuine celebration.
We should strive to enter a worthwhile celebration, a rejoicing that need not end.