I recently ran across these words about birthdays in The Complete Psalter, a commentary penned in the sixteenth century by a little-known German Protestant named Nikolaus Selneccer. In his exposition of Psalm 139, Selneccer saw this song of David as a text that legitimates the celebration of birthdays. Along the way, Selneccer also listed five points (no, no, not those five points) to remember when it comes time to celebrate the day of your birth.
Today happens to be my birthday, and so I thought it might be appropriate to share what Nikolaus Selneccer had to say about birthdays nearly five hundred years ago. I’ve added a heading to each of his points to make the flow of his thoughts a bit easier to follow:
God himself created you in his image, formed and preserved you in your mother’s womb, nurtured you and in time brought you to light, and he himself became your midwife and nursemaid, since otherwise you would have perished and died, if God had not preserved both mother and child. We do, therefore, properly thank God always, and when someone celebrates their birthday, we hold a joyful celebration according to the venerable Christian custom. In this celebration, those who celebrate their birthdays should remember these five points:
(1) Your life is from God: On this very day, you were drawn in nakedness out of a cavern of darkness—the womb—as if from a prison. This was solely because of God’s help, without whom it would have been impossible to live at all.
(2) Your life was preserved, and your parents were glad: We were preserved and our parents were gladdened; they raised us, loved us, and sustained us.
(3) You became an heir of God: We were baptized and became children of God and heirs of God through Christ, even though we were otherwise by nature children of wrath.
(4) You have new life in Christ: We, at that time, began a new life and became conscious of eternal life.
(5) You can thank God for the years you have already lived, and you can ask his blessing on the years that are yet to come: We thank God for all his good deeds that he has revealed in us throughout all our lives, and we ask him graciously to bless the rest of our days—as long as we live—and to preserve us against every evil of soul and body.
Of course, as a committed credobaptist, I would reorient points three and four to focus on God’s covenant with believing parents and on God’s offer of new life to every person on the basis of faith. Still, there are beautiful truths entwined in these words from the sixteenth century, and it might be worthwhile to spend a few moments meditating on these truths this year on your birthday.