But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport the tithe, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
The crusty old journalist, H. L. Mencken, once defined a Puritan as someone who lived in fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time. Perhaps Mencken wasn’t all that accurate in his description of the true God-fearing Puritan of old, yet he did hit upon the common notion that religion is something very gloomy. But how foreign such an idea would have been to Jesus, whose first miracle was supplying yet more wine for a wedding feast, or the ancient Israelites, who had seven festivals each year with some lasting up to seven days! Or, what would the Apostle Paul have thought as he was continually calling on Christians to rejoice!
It was at a Christmas party the other night that I thought how God had created us with the innate, insatiable need to celebrate and make merry. In the midst of delicious food, music, and laughter, I thought of the “second tithe” commanded in today’s Scripture text. Along with the tithe to be given for the ministry of the Temple (Numbers 18:22-32), and the tithe to go for the care of the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), there was the second tithe commanded to be eaten by each household “rejoicing together” in the presence of God.
With the second tithe there was special provision for the family that lived too far from Jerusalem to transport the tithe of grain, wine, oil, and animals to the Temple. They could sell the second tithe at home and take the money with them to Jerusalem and celebrate (Deuteronomy 14:24-25). Once in Jerusalem they were to spend the money for whatever they wish: “oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire.” Then they were to offer what they purchased as a sacrifice to God, and throw a big feast in the “presence of the LORD your God,” with “the household rejoicing together.”
Of course the Bible always warns against “licentiousness, drunkenness, and a profligate life” (I Peter 4:3), but commands rejoicing and celebration of our good and gracious God. All of this leads me to think that Christians should have the best parties. All the kids in the neighborhood should know the house to go to if they really want to have fun.
It seems that if Jesus wasn’t teaching or performing miracles, He was going to celebrations. It really bothered the “religious” types of Jesus’ day that He seemed to have so much fun. That’s why they called Jesus “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). The religiosity of the Pharisees was all about performance and trying to be good enough, while Jesus went about celebrating the Father’s generous love.
Yes! This is the season to be jolly! Sure Christmas comes in the midst of the darkest and coldest days of the year, but let’s light the candles and celebrate the True Light who shines on us. In the midst of economic and political gloom, let’s show the world that we have the Good News!
As he does so often, the wise man of Ecclesiastes gives good counsel about celebrating: read and ponder his words:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, The Message
photo by Framtonm