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Are birthdays to be remembered?

Many people celebrate all kinds of commemorations. One of them, a birthday, is a very important festivity in the year. For some even the most important festivity. Most believers follow that tradition. But is life of a believer really comparable with that of all people? Even more so, is it fitting for believers to celebrate their birthdays? What is written about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

An anniversary day is a counted remembrance day, which falls (again) exactly another year after an important moment in the past according to a common calendar. For individual persons this is in the first place their birthday or the day of passing away of a relative (beginning or ending of public life), accepting/initiation of a religion or the day of marriage. A collective can have an anniversary day, like the end of a war or the establishment of their nation. Hybrid forms are also possible, like the birthday of a king/leader. God has not commanded these anniversary days. Why then do believers celebrate them?

Word study
The word ‘anniversary’ doesn’t appear in the original text of the Bible, since it is based on the cycle of years. However, counting of anniversaries suggests that years follow each other up; based upon an ongoing linear time measurement instead of a cyclic. Still, some anniversaries are mentioned in the Bible, like the Jubilee-year (50th year; Lv 25:10) and the Sjabbat year (70th year; 2 Kr 36:21). But these are exclusively religious; (the blessing of) God has the focus in the memorial year and not humans. Also, one birthday is mentioned in the Bible for which the Greek word ‘genesia –birth festivity’ (Mt 14:6; Mc 6:21) is used. It is the birthday of king Herod Antipas. But that birthday has a very negative meaning. Not only is it made clear that only kings, the elite and the rich held such feasts, but also things happened then which are blasphemies.

If in the Bible the concept ‘birthday’ is lacking, even of the Lord Jesus, or if it is negatively been described, should believers nowadays then celebrate them?

Focus on the now
An anniversary is not just a commemoration and a counting since the past, but much more so celebrating the past. Being alive since that day. Anniversaries therefore go together with presents, visiting places or a monument or otherwise having a special remembrance of ageing of the years since. Many people take or get a day off for it and do ‘nice’ things. Often they have a delicious meal or, in the contrary, they mourn or have a fast. What is being commemorated is central on that day, without that actually something is done to contribute to it. Sometimes a view on the future in relation to the commemoration is taken: that many of commemorations of that day will follow and that the time until the next commemoration may be good and blessed. ‘Round’ and special year numbers will often be celebrated grand, like a 70th anniversary.

Eternity and mortality
According to the Bible life on earth is a gift from God. This becomes even clearer from the many cases of bareness of people which have a role in the Bible. Then the wonder becomes even more great when believers ask God for deliverance or/and God announces to give a breakthrough and the birth of a child is announced. But even when a child is born the Bible more than once states that the life of a child also carries the burden of responsibilities to worship and serve God with that life (Gn 2:15). It is also emphasized in the Bible that there is no reason to celebrate life exuberantly. Rather the opposite is called upon: it is said to better mourn about the repeated mistakes, the sinfulness of man which doesn’t please God (Eccl 7:2) and the bad times in which the believers are to live (Eccl. 8:6). Believers are called upon to live quite and lead sober lives in godliness and worthiness (1 Tm 2:2; Js 4:9). When Job thought about all that happened to him he came to conclude that he was to scanty to understand God’s acts (in his life) and he concluded that keeping silent is more appropriate (Job 39:37 (40:4)).

But there is still another important argument that makes birthdays questionable. In the Bible there is a call to strive for a pious life for God [1], but that this is not guaranteed at the birth of a child. Man needs to seek that pious life and hopes to receive it from, have it confirmed by God. However, most people seem to not getting further then planning to do that. Therefore many submit to the motto ‘let us eat and drink, since tomorrow we will die’. But that attitude doesn’t proclaim a life that needs anything from God (1 Cor 15:32), but proclaims a life in one’s own strength [2]. But in the Bible another, higher Way is shown. One that lives in service of God. According the Bible the unbelievers do not know when they will die, but the believers who are in the Lord die exactly on the time God has determined for it. However, the conclusion that is drawn about life is that the unbelievers live a ‘better’ life on earth then the believers. Also, some believers die in a rather strange way and it seems like it that such believers often die sooner that unbelievers. Still, believers die in the Lord, with the knowledge that their life was of meaning to God and that in the resurrection they are allowed to be with God forever.

Life of man is short, limited and more evil then good. The life of a believer is in the Hand of God and that makes the acts of God in Creation memorable. But is it required that the anniversary of the acts [3] of an eternal God need to be celebrated? Since the commandment of God for it cannot be found in the Bible, this seems useless [4].

Important ‘anniversaries’
Despite the above many believers celebrate the following ‘anniversaries’:
Birthday and the day of someone’s death
Marriage day
Christmas

Birthday and day of someone’s death
In the Bible believers are not commanded to keep these anniversaries. These are obviously bordering close to self-indulgence and pagan idolatry. But in a practical sense, one needs to be wealthy and prosperous to keep these anniversaries. If people keep these anniversaries, that often leads to all kinds of sinfulness, like gossiping, jealousy, drunkenness and debaucheries (Gal 5:19-21). It is not fitting for pious believers to be a part of that (Rm 13:13). Believers are often poor and in Biblical times they kept aside all they could spare [5] to donate to the Temple service, the festivities commanded in the Bible and if there was a marriage festivity. Originally a birthday was something only the wealthy could afford. It is also typically paganistic. Things that the pagan nations did, from which the believers needed to turn away (Lv 18:24).

Marriage day
Death was something that believers since the Flood [6] until the coming of the Lord Jesus had to deal with. Therefore progressing their religious inheritance became the focal issue and thus to have their (own) physical offspring, the generation to which their inheritance was transferred. This puts the finger at the fact that they became very well aware of the limits of man and the lack of the Spirit of God. When the Messiah became physical in the Lord Jesus and after Whom the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers, this inheritance was guaranteed by God Himself. From then on, being married or not was no longer necessary to safeguard their inheritance, since death had no longer the urgency it had (1 Cor 15:55). From then on, God Himself would beget a better spiritual inheritance through His Spirit. True believers ever since regarded marriage less important and even a distraction and hindrance for their calling (Mt 19:10). Since marriage mainly is involved with the material life. If that is the case with marriage in the New Covenant, why marry or attach importance to the celebration of a marriage day?

Christmas
In the Bible there is actually little to be found about the birth of the Lord Jesus, although much is recorded about the circumstances. What is certain that these circumstances were very humble. Fitting for that of pious believers. What is recorded is only there to prove that His birth fulfills prophecies from the Old Testament (Mic 5:2). About the time, day, month or the year nothing is recorded in the Bible. That hints to the fact that His birth was planned by God, but not by man. This is especially confirmed because the Bible emphasizes that He already existed [7] prior to His birth. He came down from heaven, like He also has ascended to heaven. His stay on earth lasted about 40 years [8], of which primarily the last years of His life have be described in great detail in the New Testament. What His life above all announced was that He enacted the next important phase of God’s salvation plan, but that it not completed that plan. These are some of the important reasons why celebrating His ‘birth’ as Man is not commanded in the Bible. Since for humans His preexistence is a blur, it is unfitting to celebrate His birth. By the way, the birth of no main character in the Bible is being celebrated. Not even that of Abraham, Moses or David. Therefore it is unfitting to worship that for any of the saints. But celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus also conflicts with the majority teaching in Christianity that the Lord Jesus Himself is God. Since celebrating the ‘birth’ of God is obviously blasphemous and paganistic. But there is also an abominable side about celebrating Christmas, since it already existed as a pagan festivity for ages (the Winter solstice). The fact that in traditional Christianity Christmas is at the center if the church calendar points to an unbiblical deviation from the original focus in Biblical religion. That focus was on death [9], resurrection from it and on God’s final judgment. A birthday puts the emphasis on enjoying life in the preset [10].

Evaluation
Celebrating anniversaries (enumerating remembrance days), for example someone’s birthday, which are done to (abundantly) celebrate life is unfitting for believers. Since, they have come to recognize that life is in the Hand of God and that they should focus on God’s will. On being fruitful for God in the current life, instead of focusing on their own pleasure, selfishness or all kinds of desires of the flesh. Likewise, the ‘birth’ of the greatest Believer Who ever lived on earth, the Lord Jesus, is only of instrumental, secondary meaning. Not only was He originally not a human, but also is His ‘birth’; its incomparable (no creature is born like this: wholly conceived by the Spirit of God in a woman). But His ‘birth’ is also a single event. He will not be born again from man. The whole fairytale like romanticism which is invented around His ‘birth is really paganistic and a blasphemy.

In the Bible commemorating birthdays of individual believers are not commanded nor mentioned, but the emphasis is on what their lives mean to God and how they die in Him. It is unfitting to spent money and resources on anything else. The first believers spent all they had to celebrate their religion, of which the Biblical festivities are pivotal, with great exuberance. Since they found that this was deserving to God. Factually, in the Bible dying (taking distance from the flesh) and death (end of living) was put in first instead of (originating of) life (Fp 1:21, 23). Also, the collective was put ‘above’ the individual. Thus, celebrating collective anniversaries were acceptable. In all these things God was more important than humans. Knowing that God looks after every believer within God’s people. It is fitting for believers to do away, to stop doing that which in the end doesn’t add to faith (Eph 4:22). It would be good to test each ‘anniversary’ to that standard and to seriously consider if it should be remembered.

[1] A synonym for eternal life: life that has continuous value for God.
[2] The life of the ungodly.
[3] Like the birth or death of a believer.
[4] Since it is only relevant for a few generations.
[5] Since God had commanded levies.
[6] In the days of Noach.
[7] His preexistence.
[8] He did reach the fullness of maturity of His earthly existence as a Man.
[9] That explains why Pésach (Passover) originally had the focus in Christianity.
[10] That is paganistic.


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