If I could transport myself to any fictional event, Bilbo’s birthday party would be high up on my wish list. The lights, the dancing, the food, the fireworks, and the one-of-a-kind speech. Hobbits know how to have a good time, and festival atmospheres characterize their rhythm of life. Jokes fill the air. Typically grumpy elders let down their guard and join in the fun. Here, under the lanterns, uninhibited community is built in a strikingly unique way.
Another event I’d attend is the wedding of Annie and Finnick from The Hunger Games. Unlike Bilbo’s party, this wedding is an act of carefree defiance in the face of great suffering. A mass of soldier citizens forced into hiding bravely choose joy, opt for celebration despite their enemies’ evil. Rather than an oblivious escape for a nation of Pollyannas, this is a moment of intentional encouragement to help sustain their spirits during a long war for freedom.
Christians have a secret weapon available to us: the art of celebration. Granted, non-believers can party, too. But our joy is birthed in the provision of the cross: we have been truly set free both now and forever, and there is no stopping our rejoicing in the truth. The depths of our gratitude, the extent of our holy happiness, the object of our excitement—all far outweigh what the world has to offer.
Just like Bilbo’s party, our joy brings us into deep community with one another, cultivating a group identity of joy. Just like Annie and Finnick’s wedding, our celebration is a chance to defy the enemy’s works and effects. While the world struggles with fleeting glimpses of relief, we can live from a place of lasting exuberance, a lighthearted way of life that pulses with energy and freedom. The hope isn’t to party better than others do, but to invite others into the celebration that will never end.
I’ve got to admit that this is all really hard for me. I’m a naturally serious person. I’m bewildered by the concept of fun because I enjoy reading a book on a rainy day with my cat. So when I was told earlier this year that we are made for play (among other things), it stopped me short. I don’t know how to play, I thought. I’m actually a pretty boring person. So I started jotting down a fun list. Things I enjoyed when I was little (like playing dress up and watching Saturday morning cartoons and making mud pies). Things I learned to like over time (doing home projects, creating magnet poetry, and arranging flowers). Things I want to try at some point (a color war, family Olympics, a food fight). Just prompts for me to take a break from my usual austere self and to imagine what kinds of play I could partake in.
I’ve made some physical adjustments to help with this endeavor as well. Our colorful birthday banner has been proudly displayed in the dining room (despite the fact that the next birthday in our house isn’t until September), along with napkins labeled “party animal” and those little cocktail umbrellas that fancy up an unexciting glass of tea. I found a glittery “Celebrate” sign to hang in the kitchen. Sparkly noisemakers festoon the living room. And a redemption bell sits in a prominent spot so that we can ring it any time we see something worth celebrating—from all of the laundry being finished to a surprise check coming in to Allie behaving her furry little self. I’m finding that the more small things we take joy in, the more we see that we’re able to take joy in. So the more you look, the more you find.
In the last chapter of The Celebration of Discipline, happily titled “The Discipline of Celebration,” Richard Foster issues a challenge to Jesus-lovers:
Celebration is at the heart of the way of Christ. He entered the world on a high note of jubilation (Luke 2:10). He left the world bequeathing His joy to the disciples (John 15:11) … Jesus began His public ministry by proclaiming the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18, 19). The social implications of such a concept are profound. Equally penetrating is the realization that, as a result, we are called into a perpetual Jubilee of the Spirit. Such a radical, divinely enabled freedom from possessions and a restructuring of social arrangements cannot help but bring celebration. When the poor receive the good news, when the captives are released, when the oppressed are liberated, who can withhold the shout of jubilee?
If you’d like to join me as I grow in my ability to see things worth rejoicing over and to really get down into the nitty gritty of living in a state of joyful acknowledgement, start your own fun list. Dress up your surroundings with reminders to party. Feast with your family and friends, making much of God’s good gifts. Pack a birthday candle to stick into your lunch. Celebrate the light you see in others, writing notes of encouragement or leaving treats at their door. Make a playlist that you can’t help but move to in all kinds of happy ways. Make a photo journal of each day’s blessings. Keep balloons and confetti on hand. It’s time we take back the God-ordained concept of a good time. So strap on your party hats and let’s do this!