Every year our church hosts the graduation ceremonies for the Preschool next door. And every year I am amazed at the insane level of enthusiasm in the room. Parents start showing up, as early as, two hours before the ceremony hoping to secure a good seat for pictures. There are tripods being set up at all possible locations around the room to capture the momentous occasion on film. And, as Pomp and Circumstance begins to play, and the kids, in full cap and gown, begin to march down the aisle, the room explodes with camera flashes and parents jostling for position and climbing on chairs to get the perfect picture.
I used to roll my eyes at this whole event and think these parents are out of their mind. I mean, what exactly are we celebrating here? All you have to do to pass preschool is be there, which is really more about the parent’s efforts than the kid’s. Well, that was how I felt anyway. That is, until this year. Tomorrow, I’ll actually be attending the preschool graduation of my own little 5-year old, Gavin. And I will be the one jostling for the best position to get the picture as he marches in with his cap and gown. I’ll be the one with the video camera as they sing songs about the alphabet, colors and kindergarten. I’ll be the one who feels genuinely proud of my boy for accomplishing something, even if it was kindof impossible for him to fail at it.
So, this year I feel less judgmental as the parents start to line up outside the door two hours before the program begins. Well…who am I kidding, that’s still ridiculous. But I think I at least understand where they’re coming from. It’s not so much that I feel proud of Gavin’s great accomplishments in preschool as much as it is a reminder to me that he is in the process of becoming an adult. This little graduation is a foreshadowing of a future ceremony where he will be ushered into adult hood. It brings to the surface all kinds of emotions about the hopes and dreams that I have for him. About the man he will one day become. I completely realize that he hasn’t arrived there yet, but it serves as a milestone that reminds me of how far he has already come. It’s a time to celebrate the progress, no matter how small, that he has made in view of the future that still lies ahead of him.
The prophet Zephaniah was telling Israel about their God and His promises and said “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) Zephaniah just told them that the almighty God of the universe is going to throw down in exuberant, joyful celebration over them. And the context of the book tells us that He wasn’t celebrating because of how awesome they were, or because of how amazing they had performed. In fact, the proceeding verses are all about how God has acted to save them. And if you read the rest of the book, it was not because they deserved it, it was because He loved them in spite of what they deserved. And after all of that He is about to party like a proud parent at a preschool graduation.
When it comes to God’s joy in us we tend to believe that it is conditional. That if we achieve great things than he will be proud and if we fail to do so he will be ashamed. But the gospel shows us that God loves us, not because of what we have done but because of what Christ has done and that his approval or joy in us is not based on our performance. So, why does God celebrate over us?
The book of James tells us that “He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18) Which tells us that the transformation that God brings about in our lives is a foreshadowing of the transformation and restoration that He will ultimately bring about in ALL things. God is happy with our obedience, not because it is perfect obedience (which is good because it never will be) or because it shows how amazing and impressive we are (because even our growth comes from Him), but because, even in the baby steps of the early stages, it foreshadows what will one day be true of us and even of creation itself… complete restoration.And He could not be more joyful about that.
So, tomorrow when I see my son dawn his cap and gown and I watch that little tassel flopping back and forth as he marches in the room. I will be filled with pride for my boy. Not because of what he has accomplished by conquering the excruciating demands of preschool but because I can already see, in that moment, the glimmer of the man he is becoming and, by God’s grace, will one day be.