In our extended family, the holidays are complemented by a vastly disproportionate number of birthdays than the rest of the year, amounting to a month of concentrated, supercharged gift-giving fun! As we traveled around to many a birthday or holiday event then, I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find myself frequently playing an old CD in the van for my boys called “The Birthday Party”. To grip you in suspense, I’ll only say now that it features a leprechaun-like man named Stanley Tutter who finds himself early and alone at a birthday party and tries to figure out who it’s for based on the appearance of the gifts. Turns out (obligatory SPOILER WARNING!), each gift represents a different way people might express appreciation for Jesus, and the party ends up being his, a Christmas birthday celebration.
Obviously, we all know that Christmas is named after and primarily meant to celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s called Christ’s mass for a reason, not Family-mas, Food-mas, Commercial-mas, or Santa-mas. But although many at least somewhat include and/or worship Christ in their gatherings, how often do we truly celebrate this event with the fanfare and attention toward him that we would anyone else’s day of birth? This question has echoed through my mind the last month, and it has been answered in three different ways…
1. Do-don’t just say-what we appreciate about God
Talk is cheap, right? We all say things that we either don’t mean, can’t mean, or won’t fulfill, as we have seen from many elected officials over the last decade. Of course, that doesn’t make it right. Think about all the Christmas/worship songs that get sung without serious reflection of what is being said from a person to Jesus? Modern worship is notorious for spur-of-the-moment, virtually impossible commitment phrases like “I surrender all”, “I will follow you all of my days”, and similar promises we won’t remember an hour later and often can’t even fulfill if we wanted to. If I don’t or can’t mean what I sing, silent honest worship is far superior to 9th Commandment-breaking anti-worship (Click to tweet). Being older, Christmas songs more appropriately focus on praising who Jesus is rather than on our thoughts on the matter, but even then, they are a lesser gift than actually living who Jesus is. In the opening verses of Romans 12, Paul defines worship as offering our bodies-not voices-as living sacrifices. Jesus himself exemplified for us perfect worship to our Father seldom in word but far more often in deed, doing-not saying-the mercy, compassion, and justice that characterizes Him. What greater birthday gift to give than speaking less and doing more of what Jesus did to do what our God values, not because the holidays are a time for good deeds, but because Christmas is a birthday to celebrate!
2. Give to Christ more than to others
Surely, there’s nothing wrong with giving others presents on Christmas, but perhaps we’d all admit (I will) Christmases gone by without even considering why we give presents on that day. Not surprisingly, since Christmas is in fact about Jesus, we give presents in emulation of his gift to us: a supremely sacrificial incarnation, physical life, and undeserved death. As above, this emulation of who he is is rooted in genuine worship, but who can argue that it hasn’t become something much worse? Whether it’s devoting too much money that would be better spent elsewhere, complaining about a sub-optimal gift, the greed and manipulation of commercialization, or just the stress and even anger holiday shopping often produces among us, our giving has become more human than divine, has it not? Fortunately, there are many creative ways to restore gift-giving both to and in honor of Jesus. Perhaps you can give what you’d spend on a present for someone to a charity they and Jesus would be excited about. Or each year have the family round-up all the donatable possessions-even newly acquired ones-that are/will be seldom used, or are more-or-less duplicates, to organizations that use them to support people Jesus cares for? You’d be surprised what kids (and hopefully adults) will offer to others! And if not, maybe it’s the family mindset about Christmas that needs to be redefined, by setting a pattern of every member doing together what Jesus did for the people he served as the method and motivation for giving that itself is a much greater gift to our kids than any toy or gadget.
3. Boldly reclaim the Birthday Party for what it is
I will not say celebrating Christmas as Christ’s birthday is always easy, and the different ways our family has explored doing this has met with some resistance. But especially for those who profess Christ as their Savior (and even for those who don’t), if you’d oppose making the Superbowl about knitting or Valentine’s Day about war, then oppose Christmas being about stress, greed, and business, or even about fun traditions, food, and family. It’s ironically revealing that the most iconic symbol of Christmas to many is an unhealthy-looking, Coke-wielding, very wealthy, white individual who lives 364 days of his life in isolation from the real world and spends the other day frantically trying to get presents to everyone (Click to tweet). In contrast, a special gift we were given last week by an elderly friend without much to materially offer says it all (see pic). Let’s take our sick Santa of a Christmas and let him be healed by boldly bowing to the birthday boy.
Which brings me back to Stanley Tutter. After his realization that the party is Jesus’, he rightfully states as the guests arrive, “There’s no doubt who these presents are for, and he deserves every one of them and much more! Come on everybody, this is going to be the greatest birthday party in the world!” May all our Christmases be exactly that.
To further explore the many necessary reasons why Jesus was born as this great gift to us, and how we can emulate his gift-giving back to him and others, check out my Healing Hereafter book series, downloadable free and instantly here!