Anna already knows what she wants her next birthday party to be like. After we left Madyson Mishler’s fourth birthday party Anna said, “I want my birthday party to be at Cedar Hill too. And I want mac & cheese and peas and corn and ice cream.” Anna absolutely loves parties. I think it’s because she loves to be happy. She loves to laugh and she loves to go crazy. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh. Who doesn’t love to be happy?” Well trust me, they’re out there. There are people who don’t want to be happy. And I bet they hate birthday parties.
I think birthday parties are cool because they are basically a celebration of existence. When you celebrate someone’s birthday, you’re not recognizing some grand accomplishment or congratulating them on a job well done, you’re just there to say, “Hey, you were born… you exist, and that makes me happy! In fact, it makes me want to celebrate! Not only that, but I’m so pumped about the fact that you exist, that I’m going to buy you some stuff! So let’s party!”
This week when I read Jesus’ story about the guy with two sons in Luke 15, it made me think about birthday parties. You see, when the younger son who had run away came back home, his Father threw him a party. It was a ‘You were dead but now you’re alive’ party. It was a ‘Yay! You exist’ party. It was kind of a re-birthday party. Jesus told this story to show us His heart for us… a heart that’s full of grace. He told it to show us that there is a life of joy available to all who come home to Him. There is a party where you’re the guest of honor and it’s not for anything you did… it’s just about Him loving you. For this son who had run away, it was all his friends and family gathering around to say, “You’re here, and that makes us happy!”
Well, not all his friends and family… Jesus said that his older brother wasn’t there. (This is the brother who had obediently stayed home with the Father the whole time) When he came near the house that night, he saw the catering truck and heard the band playing. He smelled steaks and heard laughter… it was a party! But did he go in? No. Jesus said he refused to go in. In fact, not only would he not go into the party, he made other people leave the good time they were having to talk to him outside. Why? Why was he so angry? Why wasn’t he happy? Why didn’t he join the party?
Well, he said that he wanted a party, but when it comes down to it, he didn’t really. This brother didn’t want a ‘Yay! You exist!’ party. He wanted a victory lap… a winner’s circle… an Olympic podium with him on the top wearing a laurel wreath and a gold medal. He said, “I’ve slaved for you all these years and you throw a party for him!? He spent your money on prostitutes! I never did that! I’ve been here with you, the slave driver… remember?”
“My son,’ the Father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” When I read those words it made me realize that the unhappiest times of my life have been the times when I thought I deserved something, earned something or accomplished something. How could I be ‘always with Him’ and yet be so angry and unhappy? When I have something to prove, I’ve got something to be sad about. But when I give all that up and just exist… when I give up trying to measure up and outdo and just believe that He loves me and is glad that I’m here, I start hearing the music and smelling the grill… when I say, “Okay, I give up trying to win…” He says, “Happy birthday! Let’s party!”