Both Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus beginning his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand.” At first thought, this doesn’t really sound like a call to celebration. Truly, I ask you, can you remember anyone coming into their surprise birthday party and hearing cheers of “Repent!” from friends and family. This doesn’t seem like Jesus is calling anyone to get a party started. However, when we look at his life and ministry, it seems this phrase was, in some significant ways, all about starting and carrying on celebrations.
Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is turning water to wine to honor a family in danger of a major social crisis. With this one miraculous act he keeps the wedding festivities going. Luke’s Gospel is peppered with parables about the Kingdom of God. Each one describes Kingdom activity as rejoicing over found sheep, or coins, or kids, or treasure, and the result is always a party!
In all of the Gospels, Jesus heals the lame, the blind, the crippled, and people who are sick in almost every way imaginable. Again and again, these people leave rejoicing. I can envision them dancing off down the road or to the homes of friends and family to throw tremendous celebrations as they have found a new lease on life.
When the Kingdom of God breaks in, lives are changed for the better and people are filled with joy! That sounds like the making of a party if there ever was one. “Jesus people” should be among the happiest and most joyful people on the planet. If the Kingdom of God is present and influencing us as a community of his church, we should be people who laugh and sing and rejoice. We should be among the most positive party people anyone knows!
Now we all know that life is not just one big party. Times can be tough. Crisis, conflict and social upheaval can slip in and steal our joy, if we let them. At the same time, we should be the people of the Kingdom who celebrate life as a gift to be cherished, shared, and celebrated! Paul put it this way, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). He ends his letter to the Philippians saying to pray and trust and find peace in God. It seems that Paul, even in the face of difficulty and trials, calls us to rejoice. He stands on the shoulders of Jesus when he calls the church to find joy and strength because the Kingdom of God has broken into the world through the saving work of Jesus.
My dear Conejo family, if we believe this, if we have any hope of being united with Christ, then let us rejoice when we gather together! Let us find ways to carry that joy into the world Monday through Saturday. We as the Church and all who “come to church” should find joy! Let there be fun!