I have long been intrigued by the etymology or origin of words. And I am fascinated by the process of change made to a word by subsequent generations and their particular cultures. Over time, a strong meaning may slowly fade into the background, while a newer usage moves to center stage. This is good to keep in mind while enjoying older literature. Archaic or lesser known meanings add new life, color, and nuance to an old text. This is true with the word, celebrate, which originated in the 15th Century.
According to William Whitaker’s Words, the word, celebrate, comes from the Latin, celebratus; which means to perform, frequent, honor, glorify, publicize, advertise, discuss, or bandy. In short it denotes, to keep in mind. To preserve. In Dickens, they used to “keep Christmas.” Yet, in current American English usage, the popular meaning of celebrate is to party, revel, enjoy, have fun, and be merry. Do you see the difference?
I believe that celebrating once meant honoring or keeping some person, event, or belief paramount by taking part in a remembrance of some sort. I love this. I miss this. Yes, we ought to celebrate with fun, family, and especially joy. Yet, when the glory and the memory are lost in mere frivolities, the heart is saddened. (Commercialized Christmas is a good example of this.) At least one purpose for a celebration, then, is to insure that something precious is never lost, but is kept fresh, and is passed on to future generations.
So, when most Americans under 40 know very little about American history, or when many Christians understand very little about what Jesus said and what the Bible teaches, concern grows. Are we enthusiastically raising our voices, yet forgetting the reasons we can sing at all?
The Jewish people were given four festivals a year by which to remember God’s goodness to them and His holiness, yet, they kept falling into idol worship.
Jesus had a real problem with some religious people of His day. They kept the kosher laws, the temple etiquette, and even tithed a tenth of their herb gardens. They absolutely loved the best seats in the banquets, and the greetings in the marketplace; they were truly enjoying themselves. Yet, they had forgotten their God’s character. They were exhilarated with the outer observances, but had forgotten the inner reasons.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he reminded them not to use the Lord’s Supper as a time for selfishness and excess. They were doing the right thing, communion, in the wrong way. Were they having fun? It sure seems like it. Some were getting drunk and feasting. Yet, they weren’t fulfilling the purpose of the celebration: to remember the Lord’s death until He returns.
So, should we lay aside delight and joy to recall God’s merciful kindness with somber faces and gray apparel? Not at all. What an oxymoron that would be! We have been truly blessed! What does a King have that we do not have? We are redeemed and are given many great and precious promises! We are heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. Joy and gladness must reign at our celebrations, but the reason for the joy must be the honored guest.
Celebrations are lovely and necessary, refreshing and joyous. Yet, all is empty if the celebrants only remember the glitz and the fun. Most anyone can hold a party. Let’s freely give to our young that which is important in the remembrance. Let’s remind ourselves of history. Let’s rehearse God’s truths and His goodness to us. This greatly helps us, and also pleases Him.
So, beloved, let us preserve the heart of the matter, as the heart of the matter.
When we remember God’s faithfulness and His promises in a celebration, joy and rejoicing are a natural result. No long, morbid faces or hearts, please. Yet, we do not have fun for fun’s sake. We are advertising, practicing, frequenting, and glorifying precious jewels of memory which are so dear to us, we never want to lose them.
Let us sing, but mostly, let us rejoice in why we do.
Psalm 103:2 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;”
“Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,” Isaiah 46:9
“Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.” Malachi 3:16
“… and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:24-26
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
“I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder,” 2 Peter 1:13
“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it,” Revelation 3:3a