Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
f only two “birthdays” Holy Scripture makes mention. In Genesis of a birthday festival prepared in honor of Pharaoh, and in the Gospels of the wild festal day in Herod’s palace, so gruesomely stained with the blood of the Baptist.
And when alongside of this memory of what the Pharaohs and Herods celebrated on their birthday, you put the dreadful words wherewith first a Job, and presently a Jeremiah, curse the day “on which they were born,” can you ignore how, from this striking combination, there goes out a voice of seriousness and of warning with respect to our birthdays?
In a sumptuously celebrated birthday there lurks a danger that is not so visionary, for our hearts are so open to temptation.
We then are feasted; in the estimation of everyone, the home-life and the life of the circle of our friends moves itself all that day long around us as a center; we do not hide ourselves, but naturally stand in the foreground; our friends approach us with words of congratulations, even with verses in rhyme; the post brings good wishes from far and near; he who never receives a telegram, receives one on that day; everything is astir in our behalf; for us are those flowers; for us all this commotion; and also the presents, which we exhibit with a certain pride, enrich our treasure.
And where that day of our personal glory so comes and goes, would you think that that day could pass without having the heart throb with a somewhat higher tension, and making us feel somewhat more strongly than at other times our already so sensitive self?
Prudence in early training sounded a warning therefore already from of old against too elaborate a keeping of the birthdays of our dear little ones.
Especially with those little ones, who do not yet understand their birth, who cannot yet make their only just beginning lives a subject of thought, and have not yet undergone the impression of God’s faithful Father-care, a too sumptuously celebrated birthday rarely did anything else than hurt the tender flower of simplicity and waken vain sensations in the still thoughtless heart.
If on the anniversary of our birth, things were right with us, together with warm thankfulness and deep shamefacedness, little else than quiet seriousness should possess our soul.
In our past, from the hour of our birth, that forces itself upon our memory: it is our present that demands candid and thoughtful valuation of our condition, as well before God as in the world; and questions with respect to the future, call for serious resolution.
On a day of this sort, if it shall be well spent, our whole existence should to our self-perception concentrate itself as in one point of time.
But measure, after this not too high a claim, what most birthdays come to, and are you not disappointed?
Think of the birthdays of others, which you have helped celebrate in the domestic circle or in the circle of your friends. Think of your own birthdays. Ask yourself how many years you are of age. By this you will know how often you yourself have left such a day behind you. And then ask yourself what fruits these high days in your life, taken as a whole, have brought with respect to the forming of your character, to the direction and course of your life, to the enrichment of your soul, and to the hidden walk with God.
And confess, is there then not all too much remembrance of busy, excited days, which scarcely left you any time for turning in upon yourself?
Remembrances of almost nervous excitement, of overwrought expression of face, of sumptuous feasting, and of a weary retiring, to pay the following day the toll of jaded and dull feeling to the over stimulation of the festal day?
With followers of the Lord this self-complacency and high tension of spirits undoubtedly undergoes some slight moderation.
He who lives by the Word and links the course of days with his morning and evening prayer will also on the day that commemorates his birth seek that Word, and find no rest until he has finished the soliloquy on his knees before the face of his God.
He who is so rich that, while he himself seeks after God, lives in a family that is interested in the same high ideal, will in the midst of festal joy undergo the hallowing grace, that at the morning meal and at the banquet the Word comes to lift up the soul, and in prayer and praise honor is brought unto God.
Oh, by the grace of God there is in a family that honors God’s Testimony still so strong a preponderance to put bit and bridle on what inclines to excess.
But though we readily acknowledge this, and give thanks for it, should not in our Christian families, more than in the circles of the world, the self-accusation be overheard, that in so many a day of birth-commemoration by far the greater part was stolen from God and set apart for adulation of our own self?
Have you never known the painful struggle, when on such a day, at the hearing of the Word, the soul would listen, but could not, and tried to pray, but was distracted by reason of the fullness of heart and head of all sorts of things that diverted and overstrained to the point of confusion?
Or, since the other side of this medal is not lacking, did you not observe how, on such a day that was anticipated with so much interest, disappointment made the heart shrink, and in bitterness strained the eye, when you saw how little notice was taken of you, and you were nettled that less was done for you than for another, whom you counted on a line with yourself, yea, when even the birthday gift pained you, when it showed how the question of what would conventionally do had far more governed choice and purchase, than that other, how you might be made glad?
What constitutes joy in the home, at the return of a birthday?
Is it the gladness of heart that we possess one another, and still possess, and in this possession are so aboundingly rich? Or rather sometimes that a day of relaxation dawned, an uncommon day, which brings a change in the routine of life, a day on which something more than on other days comes to all the members of the family to be enjoyed?
Who then has an open eye to the reality that it sees time and again, and handles as with hands, that the feeling of richness in the possession of one another in, oh, so many families has scarcely anypart, and how, when in the morning congratulations and good wishes have been extended, the heart and head of all goes out almost exclusively to the things that have been planned?
Sometimes even such days of splendid glory end in sin. When more money was wasted than circumstances justified. Lightsomeness gave the keynote to conversation and at the festal board. And at that board itself wantonness overcame reason.
Though in Christian families, thank God, instances of this sort are extremely rare, that reformation with respect to birthday celebrations ought to be seriously taken in hand by many a family may be denied by him who has no pleasure in seriousness, but to this all who fear God will heartily consent.
Above all, on such a day our place is at the altar, and on that altar of worship more than on other days love and praise must be mingled as an offering unto God.
For does not the commemoration of our birth point back directly to that birth itself, and therewith to Him upon whom our mother in her travail cast us, and who by His wondrous counsel and wondrous power of creation formed us and called us into being, after having thought of us already from eternity, before He opened our eye to the light of day?
The days and years that since went by, are they not the exhibition of the goodnesses of our God, who where so many thousands were cut off early, spared us, permitted us to live, and all the days of our life fed and watered, clothed and covered, protected and cherished us in His love?
Should not on such a day the remembrance of all this sound as with one mighty voice in the ear of our soul, as the call of our God, wherewith He never ceases to entice and draw us into His blessed fellowship?
Must not our existence and our life, our character, our strength of life, our calling in the service of the Lord, the question whether your foot stands in the gate of the heavenly Jerusalem, be thought upon on such a day with doubling of seriousness?
Yea, shall not he who lives not miles apart from his heart, but close by his soul, on such a day of deep seriousness also think of his sins? In face of the question what God was to him, shall he not relive what he has been to His God? And shall self-ashamedness, which thereby comes upon the heart on the day that reminds us of having been born in sin, not drive us to the Fountain that has been opened to the house of Israel for sin and for uncleanness (Zech. 13:1)?
Not that therefore this day of gladness must be turned into a day of sombernesses. What is enjoyable in life, God gives us to enjoy. And the abundant joy of our birthdays is a means in God’s hand to strengthen the tie of blood and make a silver lining to glisten around our home-life.
Also here the use alone must be sanctified, that the abuse, which so readily enters, may be resisted.
In better days one did well, on such a day, to remember the poor or to contribute means for the maintenance of the holy cause of our God.
Sometimes even one’s own joy inspired him to heighten joy in poorer families, where frequently the birthday was devoid of all extra delight.
Here, too, is inequality, which may not be susceptible to radical improvement, but from which love should inspire us to remove the all too sharp antithesis.
In many ways, what is spent and wasted in higher circles on birthdays is superfluous, while, on the other hand, in lower circles such days frequently pass without joy.
So it is human sympathy when they who confess Jesus on their own birthdays refrain from superfluity, and take pleasure to pour light upon this day of commemoration in the circles of our poorer brothers and sisters.
Much is done for children of the poor at Christmas, and in this we rejoice. Something is done for them when they are sick, and that is splendid. But he who knows the children of our poor at close range, may well plan on their birthdays to surprise them.
They do not ask for much.
The hand of a child is soon filled.
And especially when that childhood is poor, and is with oh so little made rich.