To live festively means that the way we interact with each other should be positive and encouraging. We should be looking for every opportunity to praise, build up and affirm. Bethel Church in Redding express this through having what they call ‘a culture of honour’, picking up the bible phrase ‘honour one another above yourselves’ (Romans 12:10). They’re always looking to speak well of each other. I like that.
Having festive relationships means that when someone does something that we might question, our default position is to think the best and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they might just have been distracted. Or simply have expressed themselves badly. Their mind might have been elsewhere. We don’t know everything they’re going through. So we are gracious. Alternatively we can think the worst … and react sceptically, critically and cynically. How would you prefer to be treated?
Raising a culture of honour doesn’t mean there’s no place to question or challenge. Jesus said there’s a place for that (eg Matthew 18), but we must do so kindly, gently and lovingly.
All this doesn’t mean that we can’t be sad or grieve. The bible clearly says (Romans 12:15) we should ‘mourn with those who mourn’. It doesn’t mean that we forget those who are suffering or struggling in life. The bible talks (in Rom 8:18) about acknowledging ‘our present sufferings’ so we must recognise the difficult things in life. But also see God as present and sovereign in the midst of those things. Even in sadness there is much to be grateful for.
Being festive means praising God with enthusiasm and effort, with zest and zeal. Not just in church gatherings but in our families and homes and streets, in our schools, universities and workplaces. It means applauding the good things in life – like achievements, milestones, anniversaries, new jobs, new babies, new homes. It means we can celebrate good things around us, like great design, scientific breakthroughs, beautiful art, and even tennis champions and World Cup football matches!
The church should model this to the world. Sadly at times we haven’t. For so many, church is associated with being dour, dreary and dreadfully dull. Robert Louis Stevenson struggled with church and once wrote in his diary something very surprising: ‘I have been to church today and I am not depressed’. God, forgive us and the church when we’ve made faith in you irrelevant and boring.
Living festively doesn’t stop us from speaking about important or difficult things – like life and death or heaven and hell. But at the end of the day, we can and must be festive because Christ is risen! That’s why the Archbishop of York, when he came to license Greg Downes as our Associate Minister a few weeks ago, was right to tell Greg that he should be full of joy, and that if he wasn’t, he’d send him back!
But it’s not just Greg and the clergy who should be full of joy. Joy is for everyone. All of us. All the time. And it’s to spill out in all our relationships, as the Spirit of Jesus fills our lives.