Dec. 19, 2011

Isaiah 61:1-2

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.

A huge part of Christmas and birthdays is giving presents. Normally, the person whose birthday it is receives the presents on his or her birthday. So, have we remembered whose birthday we’re celebrating this week? Christmas is Jesus’ birthday; not our birthday. Isn’t interesting that on Christmas, we focus much more on giving presents to other people than giving a present to him whose birthday we celebrate?

What would Jesus want as a present for his birthday? I asked this question in church yesterday and received a variety of very good answers. Here’s what I heard:

  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Belief
  • Peace
  • Justice

And then I asked the question: “Can any of these things be wrapped up and placed under the tree?” I think we can quickly discover the answer.

Jesus was in his hometown ofNazarethwhen he boldly proclaimed his personal mission statement. He quoted the words from Isaiah 61, posted at the top. If we read this closely, Jesus wasn’t about making us comfortable, making sure we are “good” people, or guaranteeing that bad things won’t happen to us. What did Jesus personally plan to do in his lifetime? Go talk with the poor, explore how those held in captivity of something could be released from what holds them captive, bring people out from the darkness in their lives, grant us God’s favor and comfort us when we mourn. Once again, these things can’t really be wrapped and placed under a tree.

When Jesus quoted these words, he reminds us that our actions most often define what kind of people we are. It’s how we treat those around us, how we reach out to those who don’t have their basic needs met, how we choose to respond to needs we’re aware of.

When we think of the poverty, we often think of economic limitation. In the deepest biblical sense, poverty is any kind of brokenness, whether it is in a personal or cultural context that restricts people from living in the fullness of humanity that God intends. For those of us who were born into a first-world economy with many blessings, we are often blinded by our own spiritual poverty. This allows us to become lukewarm in our faith and in our actions. Quite often, materialism allows us to feel comfortable and not have to depend upon God for the very existence of our lives.

Last night, I met with some ofMidland’s teens in what we call Confirmation. It’s a time for teens to discover and explore faith for themselves. We talked about why God doesn’t remove and take care of the bad things that happen in our world. I believe one of the great hang-ups for people and belief and committing themselves to God is because folks believe that if there really was a God, Immanuel – God with us – in this world, then why is there so much sorrow, suffering and evil. Why doesn’t God just eliminate all of this heartache? I explained to the teens that I can’t answer the “Why?” question. What I can do is put before people the “Who?” question. Who will journey with you through this challenging time?  When it comes to how we deal with all the crabby stuff in this world, we are the “something” that God is sending to combat evil in the world. We can become God’s presence, God’s hands, feet and treasure which can be someone’s present. This is exactly what Jesus would want on his Christmas and birthday wish list.

I received such a present this morning. After Midland’s Christmas Eve worship, we’re going to have a “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” party with cake and candles. It’s a way for us to remember whose birthday we’re actually celebrating. A very giving woman from church called me this morning, inquiring whether she could take care of getting Jesus’ birthday cake. No, she wasn’t going to bake one, but she would be happy to arrange for a bakery to make it. I know she’ll pick up the cake and get it to church on Christmas Eve.

I’m sure part of the reason she wants to do this is to help me out, to take one thing off of my to-do list this week. I also think she really wants to provide Jesus’ birthday cake for Jesus and all of us. It’s not probably a big deal to her, but it’s a big deal to me. Not only does it help me out, but I know that she gets how important it is for us to remember whose birthday it is. This is the true spirit of gift-giving that I hope we can all find this Christmas.

What can you do for the birthday King this week? Let’s not get so caught up in our preparations that we forget whose birthday it really is.

Let us pray: Baby Jesus – it seems rather difficult for us to figure out what to get you for your birthday. The little drummer boy decided that playing his drum was what he could do. I pray that you’ll help me see what I can do to make sure Jesus is honored through a present of his choosing that I freely give this Christmas. Amen.  

Blessings –




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