From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
- John 1:16
Each year when May rolls around I notice how many friends have birthdays. It seems like it's happening all the time. It's on my mind because this week I personally hit a milestone birthday, which has brought about more reflection than I expected. Apparently, I do not feel accomplished enough in my life to be 40 years old. And yet, here we are. And that's sort of the thing that's been bouncing around in my mind for today.
People approach birthdays in very different ways. Some welcome celebration, others shy away from it. Their reasons are varied. Some people love to party. Some folks struggle with the attention of being celebrated at all. Others don't enjoy the reminder that another year has gone by, inevitably leading to a few more aches and pains and a slower metabolism.
I'm in this phase of life where I can understand both perspectives. Sometimes I welcome that celebration, and sometimes I would rather hang quietly off to the side without notice. Sometimes I celebrate the wisdom and perspective that comes with age, and sometimes I feel the weight of extra responsibility and a body that is slowing down with age. I've even had years where in response to someone saying "happy birthday!" I respond with, "thanks...I think?" It just doesn't always feel worthy of celebrating, you know?!
And yet, most everyone agrees that a person should be celebrated on their birthday. So today I'm thinking about what Jesus can teach us in all this.
A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with one of my preteens (who was apparently practicing to be a future nihilist) and he said, "I don't get why we celebrate birthdays. People didn't DO anything. They were just....born, and we throw parties for them and stuff." Way to make the world a better place, bud.
I mean, he's sort of right. Think about how undeserving a birthday celebration is. Isn't it both absurd and wonderful that we celebrate the fact that someone...happened?
Congratulations. You happened.
I imagine some black-eye-shadowed teen girl rolling her eyes sarcastically as she says this.
But in all seriousness. Isn't this really unique? It's one of the only times that we celebrate people because of absolutely nothing that they've done.
Maybe birthdays are a reminder of what the grace of God is like. Jesus helps reveal to us that in God's eyes, love is freely and abundantly given to humanity. Simply by existing, we bear God's image, reflecting something of the divine. Simply by existing, we are deemed worthy of mercy and redemption, with Jesus giving his own life to reveal the depths of God's love and heal the deep disconnect caused by sin and redundant religion.
Even in his own life, Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism and the voice of God mysteriously declares, "this is my son, whom I love." And Jesus hasn't accomplished one. single. thing.
And then Jesus walks around turning the world in its head, declaring worthiness to all the people who weren't supposed to be worthy. He celebrates with people who thought they were outside of celebration. He forgives anyone who asks for it, and a few people that don't (try working that one out in your religious system!)
The Church was founded on the radical belief that grace is a completely free gift. We simply accept that there is nothing we can do to earn it and it keeps coming to us again and again. It doesn't matter if we feel worthy of having a birthday or not. It's still coming. Your mom worked hard for it, but you didn't! Yet you still receive gifts and are celebrated on that day. Likewise, you didn’t do anything to earn God’s grace, but you can simply receive it thankfully, leading to a fullness of life, now and forever.
It's just free. Because God has declared you worthy of celebration and relationship.
A few birthdays passed by this month of people I know, and I didn't really go out of my way to send a text or post on their wall or wish them a special day to communicate how valuable they are. I regret that. I'm going to do a better job at celebrating someone's worth simply because they happened. And from now on I am going to let every "happy birthday," given or received, be a holy reminder of the undeserved grace of a God who loves us and declares us worthy of celebration.
Jesus, teach me to rest in the beauty of your grace today.