Origen on Birthdays

I’m reading sections of Origen’s Homilies on Leviticus for a paper that should be finished tomorrow. In Homily 8, Origen makes an interesting argument that doesn’t fit with my paper, but I keep coming back to it in my reading.
Origen explains why the saints don’t celebrate birthdays, and his argument is that only “sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday.”

He points to two examples of bad birthday celebrations: Pharaoh in Genesis 40, and Herod in Mark 6. In both cases these rulers celebrated their birthday by having someone killed. Pharaoh had the chief baker hanged, and Herod had John the Baptist beheaded.

On the other hand, Origen argues, the righteous in the Bible curse the day they were born. He quotes Jeremiah: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”(Jeremiah 20:14–18);
Job: “After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’”(Job 3:1–3);
and David: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”(Psalms 51:5)

Origen says that these men uttered these thing “by the divine and prophetic Spirit,” (pg. 157) and then argues that at its core, baptism (of infants) is obviously necessary to wash away the stain and sin of birth for otherwise baptism is meaningless (pg. 158).

It got me thinking, are there examples of rejoicing about birthdays? Hannah who was barren and cried out to the Lord, rejoiced in God’s provision after the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and each year celebrated his birthday by making him a robe (v. 19). Sarah laughed (granted in disbelief) at the birth of Isaac, and on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham threw a huge party (Genesis 21:6-8). The angel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will rejoice over the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:14), and when he was born all Elizabeth’s relatives “shared her joy” (Luke 1:58).

So my question is this, if Job and Jeremiah are lamenting their births, does this mean that every birthday, every year is bad, or could it mean that they are simply saying that their life sucks? Is their pity party, woe-is-me, I-wish-I-were-dead attitude a reflection of their everyday thinking or a temporary EMO moment?

  • http://www.briercrest.ca/facultyprofile.asp?facultyName=CharlesHackney&facultyId=132 Charles

    Emo?

    Emo is for wussies. Jeremiah, Job, and David may have been complainy-faces, but they were not wussies.