"Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8. 10
Today is a "red-letter day" in America. Although it was on the 2nd of July that Congress voted to secede from Britain, it was on the 4th of July that independence was actually declared by the 13 former British colonies to form the United States of America. Of the manner in which the occasion was to be marked, John Adams - who was destined to become the fledgling state's second President - stated: "It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."
In the face of the colourful and noisy celebrations that would normally characterise this occasion, Adams' aspiration may sound dull. Yet, without the devout underpinning he prescribes, is there not an equal and opposite danger of its being all froth no substance?
As he led the return to Israel after exile in Babylon, Nehemiah had to remind his fellow Jews of the significance of their festivals and why it was important to celebrate whole-heartedly. This involved a balance of exuberance and devotion: neither could do justice to the occasion without the other. Solemn remembrance of God's agency in their freedom from slavery and their establishment in the Promised Land would keep them mindful. Energetic celebration would be equally appropriate, for the way it would unite and invigorate them all.
That remains the case. Whether it is the inspiration of a music festival or the exhilaration of a victory parade, community life thrives on people coming together to celebrate and share what they have in common. Such events are characterised both by joy and by generosity. Yet there is more to it. If you have ever been left with a feeling of anticlimax, the chances are that your experience lacked the essential ingredient which is often hidden to the eye, namely its spiritual underpinning. Christmas is the classic example: shorn of its significance as the celebration of Jesus' birth, it quickly descends into an orgy of overindulgence.
America is beset with problems right now. Let's all take a moment to raise the nation before the Lord and ask him to remind her citizens of the noble aspirations of their ancestors, despite the inconsistencies and aberrations of history, to bring unity and harmony today and to lead everyone into a brighter future together. God bless America!