Author Andrew Gabriel Roth explains:
This goes to one of the central debates in the growing Nazarene community about what to assimilate from the wider culture and what must be rejected. The general rule is, I believe, that we cannot substitute or abbreviate moedim (God's appointed times), but we can, if something is scripturally sound, add things that speak to a valid concept. So, for example, a lot of folks have trouble with Mother's Day for its pagan connections, but Scripture tells us to honor our father and mother, not just on those days but every day.
But if a Sunday in May helps with that reminder do I have a problem? Probably not - but it depends on how this is done. The problem, of course, is people extend this bit of mercy to Sunday as Shabbat, and why not have a day to celebrate the Savior's Birth in December as long as we do, etc. To my mind, those last two things cross the line because the seventh day turns to work and the "Christmas" stuff is harking back to Mithras worship, and was not the time of the Savior's birth and has become totally obscured by materialism in today's world.
But are birthdays pagan? In a way, the answer is yes. The ancient Greeks used to celebrate the births of their false gods. In the temple of Diana in places like Ephesus, the priests would bake cakes, put lit candles on those cakes and sing songs. Sound familar?
On the other hand, we have this from Jeremiah who, while he is clearly in a bad mood, leaves an almost festive point on the subject:
Jeremiah 20: 14 Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! 15 Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, "A child is born to you--a son!" 16 May that man be like the towns YHWH overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. 17 For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. 18 Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?
Okay, so the man is a tad, uh, down. But look at the context. If Jeremiah was not so upset, he is admitting that it is normal for:
- A man to bring news to a father about his newborn.
- For that father, in some way, to rejoice, at least on that occasion.
I guess the question is, are we supposed to rejoice on OUR DAYS every year? Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that the day of death is better than the day of birth, but that doesn't exactly clear that matter up. Solomon also seems to be in a better frame of mind in Proverbs 23:25, which again talks just about PARENTS rejoicing at the birth of their children THAT YEAR. As you know Jewish rabbinic tradition frowns on this idea, because we tend to commemorate a life completed rather than one in progress. But on the other hand....
...There is Isaiah 7:14. How do we explain this one where the birth of a son to a virgin is a sign of consolation forever? But maybe that's Messiah, and not the regular folk.
In fact, the only evidence of a modern birthday I can find in Scripture is Herod Antipas who used the occasion to kill John the Baptist! I don't know if they served cake and sang songs, but there was dancing involved at that party....
While this may not sound like a firm answer but, to my mind, the occasions throughout the year are supposed to be about YHWH and what He did for us time and time again, not about our own glory. But yes, Scripture does seem to allow for the fact that people also celebrate in some fashion the major parts of their life by throwing feasts, like when the Prodigal Son comes home. But would Prodigal's Dad celebrate every anniversary of his son's coming home? Probably not. What does that day exactly a year later have to do with it? Is it okay to celebrate a great accomplishment or righteous act? Probably, as long as the birthday does not substitute for a moedim. We rejoice in Israel, rejoice in the giving of the Torah, but nowhere do we see ourselves rejoicing just in ourselves.
That doesn't mean however that I don't mark my own birthday, my anniversary and wife's birthday, etc, because I do. But when I do, it is an opportunity to remember our obligations and look forward to pleasing YHWH. That is fine, because the reality is we need to do that every day of the year, and one reason for being reminded of that fact will work as good as another.
So yes, celebrate quietly but keep your kavannah (acting and living with intentionality and consciousness) pure. Just remember that it's not about you - it's about Him! If you're among those who go into debt every year to throw huge birthday bashes for your kid, and hiring clowns and singers and making enough racket to wake the whole neighborhood - that is totally "carnal" and "ungodly" and plain ol' going overboard...If atheists wish to engage in this nonsense, that's fine. But believers need to be less flamboyant, constantly remembering that this life is all about Yahweh and our need to draw ever closer to Him.
Tell us how old Noah, Moses, Methusaleh, Isaac and others are. How can we gauge someone's age if we do not count their birthdays?
If a birthday does not matter then against what do we count the 8 days for a brit-milah/circumcision? Clearly, a birthday does count!
Paul told us that if we eat meat which the butchers had sacrificed to their gods, but if we do not give it the same significance as the butcher did and we see it only as meat (not as a sacrifice), we are doing okay. In other words, even though it may be part of a pagan ritual to some, if it does not hold that meaning to us, it is not a paganistic ritual....