Have you heard that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday party? We use that idea often with children. It’s not wrong, but it always seemed slightly off to me. First of all, the biblical Gospels say nothing about the day on which Jesus was born. The Gospels don’t mention the year, month, or the day of week. Scholars have done loads of research to discover how it came to be that the ancient Christians selected December 25th to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but even that research is very undecided. It might have something to do with Christians wanting to provide an alternative to pagan religions celebrating the winter solstice, but it might also connect with Judaism. The scholars are just not sure. Then again maybe it’s not all that strange that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday when we don’t know the actual day, because it is a good thing to celebrate no matter the day.
But I still think the idea of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday party does have some oddness to it. Not only do we not know if we have the date right, but we also don’t seem to have the concept of birthday parties right, at least when it comes to Jesus’ birthday party. What do I mean? Think about it. At birthday parties we give gifts to the one whose birthday it is, but for Jesus’ birthday, we give gifts to each other! In fact, many of us give ourselves gifts from Christmas.
I think it gets even weirder still. If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, then we should not only be giving him gifts, but we should also be giving him gifts that he wants. When you think of a person’s birthday, you think, “Hmmm…now what would they want?” We can rack our brains wondering what they might want, trying to remember if they’ve mentioned anything that they would like.
Are you the kind of person who gives hints all the time? Or are you the person who is reserved about parties and gifts, and they make you uncomfortable, and people never know what to get you? What I’m getting at is this: if we are to celebrate Jesus’ birthday by giving him gifts, what does he want? Is he like the person who gives us a list of ideas? Or is he like the person who doesn’t tell us what he wants? Keep reading, as I’ll get to that. But first, there’s another Christmas issue we need to think about.
Despite the fact that Christmas features us giving each other gifts on Jesus’ birthday, I think we actually do give Jesus gifts on his birthday. Are you wondering what gifts we give him? Maybe we could say that we give Jesus the gift of worship through Christmas carols and special worship services. We give him the gift of praise.
While that is true, and it could be considered a gift, I wonder if that’s what he really wants for his birthday. If you are Jesus, and your followers are celebrating your birthday, like they do every year on Christmas, how would you respond to that kind of gift? If it were me, I wouldn’t be too happy about that. But thankfully, it isn’t up to me. Maybe Jesus really loves our carols and Advent candles and Christmas Eve services. Or does he?
Obviously, we don’t know for sure. But we know enough about Jesus, especially through the accounts of his life and teaching in the four Gospels to have a pretty good idea of what he wants from his followers. So what does he want? What did he say he wants? Did Jesus ask for us to hold worship services in his honor?
Years ago I read the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, and I found it very helpful. Jim is a Christian, and Casper is an atheist, and together they travel around the USA, visiting churches of all shapes and sizes. They attend worship services together, and then they discuss what they experienced. Over and over, Casper says to Jim, “Did Jesus really tell you to do this?” It is a very thought-provoking comment. Did Jesus tell us he wants us to have worship services?
It’s not wrong to have Sunday worship. But we have to face the fact that Jesus did not tell his followers to have Sunday worship. His apostles do teach us to gather together regularly. But while Jesus taught his followers many things that he wanted them to do, have worship services was never one of his commands. Again, it is not wrong to have Sunday worship or Christmas Eve worship, as long as we are clear about what Jesus definitely did say he wanted. So for Christmas, for Jesus’ birthday, we would do well to think about want Jesus wants. What gift should we get him? This Advent, we’re going to learn what gifts Jesus himself told us he wanted us to give him.
To help us learn the gifts we are to give Jesus, this year for Advent we are studying Honest Advent. The writer of Honest Advent, Scott Erickson says this: “The Word of God was incarnated through human vulnerability, and we can connect with Jesus through that same human vulnerability.” Jesus wants to connect with each one of us, and this connection happens through vulnerability on our part.
Jesus wants us to give him the gift of our vulnerability. What is vulnerability? To understand what vulnerability looks like, and how we can give Jesus the gift of our vulnerability, we’re going to take a look at Jesus’ encounters with four people. All four are vulnerable with Jesus. What we will learn from these encounters is that our vulnerability is one of the most important gifts we can give Jesus.
So please check back in to the next post, as we meet the first person who gives Jesus the gift of vulnerability.