Why do we celebrate birthdays?
Today we are having a party to celebrate the school’s birthday. And there will be cake. We’ll sing happy birthday. There will be community together.
But did you know, the song happy birthday was created at the end of the 19th century? Sugary birthday cakes were created at the beginning of the 19th century? And candles and birthday celebrations seem to have started in Germany in the 18th century? So if you had lived 300 years ago there would have been no singing, no cake and and no party.
From very early on, Christians began to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. It was a significant day when the most significant person the world has ever known, came into the world. It’s the day that history turns on. But Christians didn’t celebrate their own birthday. Can you suggest why? It’s because Christians thought it was a self centred thing to do, to celebrate my entry into the world. It’s like saying, ‘Wow, let’s have a celebration for the day I entered the world. Things have never been the same since!’ They thought that was a celebration you could have for Jesus but not for normal human people.
So what are we celebrating on birthdays? David in Psalm 139 spoke about some amazing things our birthdays make us consider. Listen to his words and what he celebrates when he thinks about his life:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)
On our birthdays we celebrate that our very existence is down to God. We celebrate that he formed us to be individual people, woven together in the depths of the earth. We celebrate that he knows us inside out. We celebrate that he intended for us to be here.
It’s interesting that in history, Christians have been much more comfortable with marking the day someone dies. That sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it, but it’s at that point when you can really consider the impact someone has had and celebrate a life lived well. The Bible talks about Christians who have died being a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who encourage us to keep running the race and staying faithful to Jesus. As we remember them, we are reminded to make it our priority to fix our eyes on Jesus, not ourselves, and continue to serve Him.
There’s another Psalm in the Bible that thinks about how our existence depends on God and it has three things it asks of God which are good things to ask for on our birthday:
1. Teach us to number our days so we might gain a heart of wisdom
It’s good to remember how old we are, but it’s more important to remember that those days and any more we have are in God’s hands. It’s important to thank Him that all that we are, all that he intends us to be, comes from him. That’s the heart of wisdom.
2. That God’s favour would rest upon us
Our birthdays are a reminder of God’s faithful love to us that has sustained us. They are a reminder of God’s grace and undeserved gifts. They are a reminder of our complete dependence on his unfailing love to keep us going. And so we should pray on our birthdays that God’s faithful love would continue to rest on us.
3. That God would establish the work of our hands
We long to be people who at the end of our lives, the memory of us will be a blessing to other people. But without him, all that we do is just grass which either dries out or rots. And so our prayer each birthday as we seek to follow Jesus should be, ‘God, establish the works of our hands. Make what I do in your service a blessing to your people and your world’.
So as we reflect on our life as a school, we are thankful for all the days he has given this school. We are grateful for the fact that he knew it before it ever came to be, he knows it by name, he knows it inside out and knows all that he intends for it.
As we look forward we pray that God’s favour would continue to rest on this school. That in times of plenty or in times of need, our hope would be in his unfailing love.
And we pray that God would establish the work of our hands. That what this school does would continue to be a blessing to God’s people and to His world.