Happy Birthday to you… Party over here, party over there! Merry Christmas!
Congratulations! Happy New Year! Welcome home!
When I hear the word “celebrate,” I think: party, fun, excitement, probably food, maybe balloons, music. My family celebrated a lot last year. It was a good year with much to be thankful for. Our oldest child graduated college. Soon after, she married. Less than a week later, I graduated with my master’s. What did I feel most? Joy, accomplishment? To be honest, my main emotion was relief.
Why relief? Think about it. Most celebrations are preceded by work, often if not usually, a whole lot of effort. Whoever coined the phrase, “Do your work the right way before you take the time to play,” was on to something. Celebration requires brainstorming, visualizing, list-making, the gathering of components.
For example, our daughter’s college graduation, what all went into that? Her admirable academic efforts during grades K-12, AP exams, college applications, campus visits. Those things all had to be done before she even left home. At college, she spent dozens of hours in classrooms, then more studying. For three of her four years, she served as an RA. All the while, her father and I continued to work in order to pay her way. That’s why, on graduation day, I experienced a palpable release of tension as I watched her accept her diploma.
Two days later, she married. The wedding was held in her college town, four and a half hours from home. Consequently, she and her fiancé did the majority of the event planning. But still, on our end, her father and I, as well as her brother and sister, worked hard to accomplish our tasks: coordinate the bridal shower, write speeches, locate mailing addresses, approve choices, reserve hotel rooms, transfer funds. Pray. Oh, the time spent praying! It was not in vain. Though very, very hot, the day was perfection. I was uncharacteristically quiet that day—due to joy, due to a desire to be whole-heartedly in the moment, and due to relief.
The next morning, I drove four hours to join my classmates—dear to me after an almost three-year journey together—for our graduating residency. Because there was no more work to be done, we were positively giddy. Yes, we would present our craft lectures. Yes, we would give our graduate readings. But all the work—the reading, writing, editing, critiquing, analysis, research, and more—was behind us. For three years I said no to countless opportunities and people in order to make the moment possible. After my reading, when I sat down, it was more of a collapse, fluid-like, as relief washed over me.
So if in order to celebrate, we must work, often very hard, consider the cross of Christ. All the planning and orchestrating, the provision of people, resources, and circumstances to make it possible. Trace backward from the empty grave as best you can with your finite human brain, all the event required. The to-do list of the Trinity would no doubt wrap our planet multiple times. Of course, their event planning began before the foundation of the earth was laid, before the Spirit hovered over the waters. Before time as humans know it began, the Trinity knew we’d fail, we’d fall. If not Adam and Eve, my great, great grandparents or yours. Me or you.
Next, set to the side the physical and intellectual efforts our triune God made on our behalf. Ponder the emotional work the Father, Son, and Spirit did in order to provide us with a reason to celebrate. Imagine the pain Father and Son experienced when Jesus departed heaven to take on flesh. The angst of child going off to kindergarten, summer camp, and college, multiplied exponentially. And being omniscient, they knew full well what loomed ahead: linen-strip diapers, vomiting, temptation, the common cold. The cross. Worst of all was the moment when Jesus—bent and broken beneath the weight of the past, present, and future sins of billions of people—would be abandoned by his Abba, his Daddy. Perhaps that was the greatest work of all, suffering that pain, that utter desolation. Oh, the relief Jesus surely felt when he exhaled for the final time, murmuring, “It is finished.” The years, decades, centuries, and millennia of preparation over at last. The difficult part of the task accomplished.
As he shut his earth-eyes, what were the last thoughts of Jesus? I have done my Father’s will. I have rescued everyone I love. I cannot wait to see my friends’ faces when they look upon me alive and realize sin and death are overcome. Or perhaps he thought, I cannot wait to return home to my Father where it will be well with my soul forever.
There is a satisfaction, a lightening and lifting of everything within us, when our work is complete and all that remains is to celebrate. Perhaps the lightening and lifting were the very things that raised Jesus heaven-ward to his true home, where I’m thinking his Father fell on his neck and kissed him. With relief.