We have a few English words that are commonly used and which have the same origin, and which should cause us to stop and think about what we do, and what and who we think important. The words are celebrate and celebrity; they both come from the Middle English word derived from the Latin celebratus [“to solemnize, honor”], which itself stems from celeber [“often repeated, famous”]. With this background, it is easy to see how the words celebrate and celebrity came to be used in the English.
In this country, we have eleven federal holidays, several of which are intended to honor individuals [birthdays of MLK and Washington; Memorial Day; Columbus Day; Veterans’ Day] and others are meant to give citizens time to think seriously about certain things [Memorial Day; Juneteenth; Independence Day; Labor Day; Thanksgiving; Christmas]. Many of these holidays have lost their original meaning [Christmas; Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day], but others do still take the time to attempt to solemnize the occasion and honor those the day was intended to honor. In addition to these federal holidays, individuals have occasions to celebrate others or special occasions, such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries, retirement, graduations, and many other celebrations intended to honor others or to solemnize occasions that are worthy of serious contemplation and maybe even self-reflection.
But we also have a habit in this country of celebrating — as in honoring — people, organizations, events, and even objects of our entertainment [i.e., music and movies]. We have, in this country, what is sometimes called the cult of celebrity — ‘the tendency of people to care too much about famous people.’ Who hasn’t heard of those who some deem ‘American Royalty’ — those we call celebrities? People literally idolize some celebrities, and spend a great deal of time following their every word, watching their every move, and glorifying them to near-god status. For some, indeed they are placed above the true and living God.
With the understanding that one of the ways celebrate is defined is “to honor,” we might benefit by stopping to consider who it is or what it is we deem worthy of honor. I say this because society in general has a habit of celebrating certain individuals [sometimes for decades and even centuries] only to find out later that this same celebrated individual had some personal characteristics, beliefs, and/or behavior that was most certainly unworthy of celebration. Maybe there is someone worthy of celebration we won’t ever regret honoring? Well, yes, there is!
When this Man was born into this world, it was announced to some shepherds in the fields of the region around Galilee by nothing less than “an angel of the Lord” (Luke 2:9-11). This fact was “often repeated” by these shepherds who “made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child” after they had personally seen Him (Luke 2:15-17). Some wise men from the East who had seen a star in the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1, 2). Without a doubt, these men came to celebrate [as in ‘honor’; they came to “worship” Him] this newborn King.
He was not so celebrated during His earthly life, however; He was, in fact, rejected by those of His own region (Mark 6:1-6), by His people as a whole (Luke 17:25), and even by the religious leaders (Mark 8:31). He was handed over to the ruling government of the time to have Him put to death, and this by the demand of the people, who were urged on by the religious leaders (Matt. 27:17-25). But this Man had done nothing wrong. Nothing. It is said of this Man, “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5), and even Pilate “found no reason for death in Him” (Luke 23:22). This Man who was so hated was hated without just cause, but He willingly went to His death because it was the very reason He had come to Earth! If there were anyone worthy of celebrating, it would be this Man, for He came to do the greatest good, did absolutely nothing wrong in the entirety of His earthly life, and died a cruel death for others — even for those who hated Him.
Of course, you know this Man to be Jesus the Christ. And if you know the facts of His earthly life, you would agree that He is truly one worth celebrating — worthy of honor, and one whose name should be “often repeated.” But, let us first consider this: How should we honor Him? Can we offer up honor in any way we determine He can be honored, or should we find out what He says about it? I think we all know that we are not truly honoring someone if we do it in a way other than what that individual says is an act or word of honor; that would not be really honoring that individual, but only something that appeases our own conscience or something that is pleasing to self.
If we truly care about honoring Jesus Christ, we will take the time and put forth the effort to learn what He said is the means of honoring Him, and in the way He said it should be done. We don’t follow what “everyone else” is doing” or even “what we have always done,” but the very words of Jesus Christ. And what has our Lord said about what His disciples should do to celebrate Him? How is He to be celebrated [honored]? What does the Bible say?
What we will find by a diligent study of God’s word is that, not long before He was taken away to be crucified, Jesus met with His disciples and established what we call The Lord’s Supper, and after establishing that the unleavened bread was representative of His body and the juice of the grape was representative of His blood, He then told them, “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19, 20). Paul told the early disciples that Jesus had said, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me,” and then told these disciples, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:25, 26). Let us note that to “proclaim” the Lord’s death means we ‘declare’ and ‘make known’ His death and what it was all about. In a very real sense, we are celebrating the death of Jesus for all it means: forgiveness and eternal salvation. Since this is something that, by the early disciples’ example (Acts 20:7), is to be done every first day of the week, then it goes without saying that this is “often repeated.” This is to be a celebration.
Jesus did not demand we remember and celebrate anything about Him except His death; not His birth and not His life, but His death. Yes, you are right in saying there is no Savior on the cross without the babe in the manger, but our concern today is what Jesus said should be celebrated — how He should be honored. It was by His death on the cross that we Christians have “been justified” (Rom. 5:9), “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10), and “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). His birth did not do that, nor His life; for that reason, we should accept the Lord’s emphasis on His death and truly honor Him and celebrate Him, and this is something that should be “often repeated.”
As Paul said, this is to be done until Jesus comes again, but we note that He is unquestionably worth it. — Steven Harper