I know. It’s a weird question. We don’t typically give Jesus gifts for his birthday. But isn’t it our usual custom to give people gifts on their birthdays? And isn’t Christmas a celebration of Jesus’ birthday? Why is it so strange then (at least if you’re a follower of Christ) to consider giving Jesus a gift for his birthday?
Think about how your own birthday is celebrated. From birthday wishes and hugs when you wake up, to special birthday meals throughout the day, to parties, flowers, cakes, cards, balloons, presents, and a host of warm greetings and well wishes from your friends and loved ones: the entire day is a celebration of your existence. Your greeting cards exclaim, “Today is all about you, you, you! So relax, have fun, live it up, no chores for you today ‘cause it’s your special day!!!!”
So isn’t it strange that we make Jesus’ birthday all about us? We are WE the ones who receive gifts on HIS birthday? We wouldn’t dream of getting gifts on anyone else’s birthday. It would seem absurd and improper if we were handed a gift at someone else’s party. We would feel awkward and embarrassed and would probably decline it. Why then, do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday so differently from our own?
Imagine if your birthday party was the social event of the year, and everyone looked forward to it with great anticipation. Imagine if your party became so popular that after a while you didn’t even know many of the attendees anymore. What if eventually people who didn’t even like you started showing up? What if it got to the point that so many of those people were coming that the organizers decided it would be best if you didn’t attend at all?
That’s what we’ve done with Christmas–Jesus’ birthday party. We still want the food, the decorations, and the festivities, but his presence has become so controversial that we’ve stopped inviting him. So, what’s the point of the celebration now? Do we just love the party so much that we continue to throw it year after year without the guest of honor? And now instead of “Christmas” it has to be called a “Holiday Party?” What on earth is a Holiday Party??? Is it just celebration of celebrating?
And now we find ourselves struggling to retain the sentiment that made the party so special in first place. It started out as a response to the astonishing hope that Jesus’ birth brought to mankind. It was an acknowledgement of our awe and wonder at the image of angelic hosts proclaiming God-made-flesh in the form of a baby born of a virgin. It was an expression of our gratitude to a loving Savior who would willingly leave heaven to join us in our fallen state. A king who came with passionate resolve to sacrifice himself to save us from eternal destruction, knowing in advance that he would be mocked, scorned and tortured by the very ones he was coming to save. It was the ultimate gift of perfect love. It would teach us what love really is. It would purchase forgiveness for our sins, and give us hope for life with God in paradise forever. How else could we respond but with rapturous celebration?
Somehow, the band and the booze at our office “Holiday Parties” don’t quite to measure up in comparison. Santa at the mall and Black Friday mobs fail to deliver the joy of the season proclaimed in our “holiday cards.”
At Christmastime, people still desperately seek those feelings of hope, love, joy and peace, and when the sanitized “holiday” doesn’t live up to its hype, it can leave them feeling disillusioned, depressed, and even suicidal. They’ve forgotten that it was Jesus that gave it meaning in the first place. Without him, the empty frivolities can’t give them what they’re longing for.
What can we do? How can we recapture the “joy to the world” sentiments from Christmases of old?
What if we started treating Christmas like a birthday party again? What if we made the day all about Jesus, and not ourselves? What if we actually gave him presents? Yes, it’s an unusual idea, but it just might help us rediscover the true meaning and spirit of the season.
Imagine you receive an invitation in the mail proclaiming that the angels are throwing Jesus a birthday bash this Christmas and you’re invited. What gift will you bring to the party?
If you really give this idea some thought, you’ll find that it is a very profound question. Even if you emptied your entire bank account and sold every possession you have, you could not purchase a gift worthy of the Son of God. So, what do you possibly have to offer?
You’ll be tempted to become legalistic or begrudged about it. Don’t.
Give something you can give cheerfully. There are countless possibilities, but the best gift choice, as with all gift choices, is the one that means the most in your own personal relationship.
Here are a few possible ideas to get you started:
You could make a donation to charity–an easy option for those overwhelmed or embarrassed by the exercise. That would be a nice gift, but it truly doesn’t have to cost anything at all.
Another great gift idea would be to make a commitment for the upcoming year: to going to church regularly, or to start reading your Bible, or to praying more frequently. You could commit to joining a ministry, small group, or Bible study. You could commit to a church position such as greeter or usher. Churches are always in need of help in the children’s classrooms. They would love it if you would give your time there.
If you are artistic, perhaps you could create a piece of art, music or poetry.
One challenging gift idea would be to give up an unhealthy or sinful habit.
Maybe what would please him most would be for you agree to trust him in an area where you’ve been struggling with doubt. Or maybe he’d like you to forgive a debt, or let go of a grudge.
If you haven’t made the decision yet, you can be certain that there is nothing he would want more than for you to surrender your life to him and be baptized.
This Christmas, spend some time thinking about this and I promise you’ll find it to be deeply meaningful. Encourage your family (if they are followers of Christ) to participate too. They’ll think it’s a weird idea. They’ll think you’re weird for proposing it. But if they’ll humor you, they might find that it is the most meaningful Christmas they’ve experienced in a long time. They can still hang the stockings, exchange gifts, bake cookies and have parties, but carve out a space in the midst of it all to acknowledge that it’s Jesus’ birthday.
Maybe you could set up a special gift area at your family Christmas party. Include a pin-up board for paper gifts and a small table for boxed gifts. The kids will love making drawings or crafts for Jesus and pinning them up on the board. And heaven knows they could use a reminder that Christmas is about more than toys and electronic games.
You could put a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake on the table, and at some point in the party sing Happy Birthday and pass around the cake. You can open the wrapped gifts and admire those that are pinned to the board. For those who prefer to keep their gifts private, let those boxes remain unopened–a silent understanding between the giver and Jesus.
If this seems too strange, far-fetched, or embarrassing, you may want to pause and reflect on what it is you’re really celebrating on December 25th. Is it a birthday party? Or is it something else?
If we can get passed the awkwardness and give a gift to the one who gave his life for us, we’ll find, as we always do with Jesus, that we’ll be the ones who receive the most.