1 John 3:16-18: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Matthew 25:37-40: Jesus said, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
As some Wisconsin people did not have church today, I am posting the message I would have shared. I know it is longer than my normal devotional. Also, Mike Slaughter, not I, came up with the idea that Christmas is not our birthday. Just want to give appropriate recognition. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I stopped by our grandkids. They were busy making Christmas lists to send to Santa. Ellie and Dylan, 3 and 2, were “drawing” what they would like. Six-year-old grandson Waylan told me exactly what he wanted, the store it could be purchased and how much it cost.
As a child, I put together a Christmas wish list. Armed with the Sears & Roebuck catalog, I listed on a piece of paper the item, page number, size and color if necessary. When done, we’d post them on the fridge. Since my parent’s didn’t have a lot of resources, each item was carefully chosen. Contrast this with our granddaughter Ellie. When the American Doll catalog arrived, she circled the items she would like. Later, she asked her Mom if she could have the catalog back because she didn’t circle everything.
Most kids think of Christmas like a second birthday, often a bigger and better deal! We encourage kids to “be good” or Santa won’t visit. Christmas can stressful as we try to find the “perfect” gift. The financial implications can also be overwhelming. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2010, adult consumers spend on average $830 each for holiday food, decorations and presents. In a two-adult house, this is over $1,600.
Presents are an important part of Christmas. They help us share with those we love. Presents come from the tradition of the magi presenting gifts to Jesus. But too often, we’ve forgotten Christmas is not our birthday. It’s really Jesus’ birthday. Too often, we make being a Christian about us. But it’s not. It’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s about a baby in a manger. It’s about what God can do through us if we are willing to be the Lord’s servant. At Christmas we celebrate the human birth of the only man who truly knew how to live sacrificially.
In our scramble to prepare for Christmas, I encourage us to pause and remember whose birthday we celebrate. Let’s reclaim the broader meaning of Jesus’ birth so we can experience a Christmas with more peace and joy than any toy or gadget could ever bring.
How are your celebrations organized, designed and focused on celebrating Jesus’ birthday? How can we make it less about us and more about him? What can we possibly give the Lord of the universe?
Fortunately, Jesus made it easy for us to know what he’d like for a birthday present. His wish list is found in Matthew 25. What is on Jesus’ wish list? Jesus simply wants us to give food to the hungry, water to someone who is thirsty, invite strangers into a warm place, clothing for those who don’t have enough and to visit the sick and those in prison. This is all Jesus wants. He even says that when we do one of these things for someone else, it’s as if we’re doing it for Jesus.
Jesus makes it clear that when we have a relationship with God, we can’t separate our relationship with God from our responsibility for God’s people. 1 John says that if we see someone who has a need and we do not assist them, we don’t really have God’s love inside of us. We can talk about doing the right things. Unless we put ourselves and our words into action, we aren’t being honest. Jesus’ wish list would be for us to serve others. When we serve others, we serve God. Since the church is the Body of Christ, we are the only hands, feet and wallets God has!
I’m not suggesting to completely stop buying presents. Let’s just think about what we do. How often do we struggle with what to get someone who needs nothing? Can we cut back what we give our families and give to those who have unmet basic needs? None of us can eliminate poverty or hunger or homelessness. But we can help one person, one family, one child. Jesus would like us to celebrate Christmas by giving ourselves sacrificially to the world. A Christ-filled Christmas would be more for Jesus and less for us. These gifts make Jesus smile on his birthday!
Christmas shouldn’t be about spending, eating and stress. We discover Christmas’ true meaning when we sacrificially give to those in need. As we do this, we remember it’s Jesus’ birthday and not our birthday.
The best Christmas gifts I receive are the ones someone gives to a needy person in honor of me. The best gifts I give to someone else is teaching them how to give to someone else. Sometimes it’s hard to make changes in our lives to honor Jesus. If you are willing to do all you can, God will do all that you can’t. That’s how miracles happen. Miracles are a partnership between ordinary people who do all they can and allow God to do what they can’t. Every spirit-filled Christian has the potential for a God movement within him or her. When ordinary people are willing to dream God’s dreams and allow them to happen, amazing things happen.
Each Christmas, one couple I know does not purchase gifts for each. Instead, they pick a couple struggling families and give them money, groceries and or gas cards. One family who received a gift from this couple came to me last Christmas. The previous year, the husband was out of work for several months. A year later, he had a job. He handed me the same amount of money his family had received the previous Christmas. He wanted me to pay this money forward to another struggling family.
I had just become aware of a family unable able to pay December rent. It was mid-December. While the amount did not cover the entire rent, it was put towards their rent. As I handed the money to the second mom, she was overwhelmed. A miracle had just happened. The first family became God’s face to the second family.
What miracle is God waiting to birth through you? What plan does God have for you, your family, for how you can become God’s face to someone else? We are the picture of God to others. I, you, can be God’s image to someone else if we allow God to enact a miracle through us. If I do all that I can, God will do the rest.
Last Thanksgiving, I traveled to Argentina with my friend Kristin. Kristin is a high school Spanish teacher and used this trip as continuing education. When Kristin asked me to join her, I had one request: we do service projects while there to count towards my continuing education.
While in Argentina, we went the city of Chacobocu. We spent a chunk of one day at an orphanage. Kids who don’t have a place to live stay at the orphanage until a permanent living situation can be arranged. Sometimes the kids don’t have family. Sometimes the parents can’t provide. One boy’s parents who lived in a dump dropped him off.
As soon as we walked into the orphanage, the kids ran up to us, arms outstretched, waiting for us to pick them up. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t speak Spanish and told Kristin the Spanish she spoke didn’t sound right. They wanted to touch us, hug us and play with our lighter-colored hair.
We had brought items for them: clothes, backpacks, underwear, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, crayons, glue and scissors. I’d brought along crafts and we spent the afternoon doing them. They loved them! One girl made the same necklace six times over. Each time, she proudly asked me to tie the newest one around her neck, thrilled. Most kids would have wanted a new craft each time, but this little girl was happy to make the same one over and over. As we finished up, there were sheets with a couple stickers left on them. Some kids asked if they could keep a sticker page because they wanted something for themselves; something they didn’t have to share with anyone else.
Think about it. If God were going to choose a mother for the Messiah today, would God most likely show up in the Yale college dorm room or to a teenage girl at a Chacoboco orphanage with only a couple necklaces and a few stickers to call her own? God looks for humble people who don’t expect special treatment or recognition. Not all of us can go to Chacobuco. We don’t have to. How can you help someone in your community? How might we humbly serve others this Christmas? How might I take some blessings I have and share with someone?
As Kristin and I were preparing to leave the foundation, we went into the kitchen where the woman making the evening meal spoke to us. With tears in her eyes, the woman thanked us for being a bright shining star for those kids that day. We were completely humbled. Kristin shared back that while we were grateful to be a bright light for them one day, she is a bright light to those kids every day.
We put lots of energy into making Christmas perfect, memorable and special. While we try to make Christmas perfect, it isn’t. The first Christmas was not perfect by human standards. For some, Christmas isn’t a fun holiday but a reminder of something or someone missing. If you don’t feel like celebrating, just remember it’s not your birthday party. It’s Jesus’ birthday.
It’s only a couple more days before Christmas. What you will give Jesus for Christmas this year? Is your gift something Jesus would want? Is it on his wish list? What is on Jesus wish list? God wants you – your time, your talent, your treasure – to serve others. It’s this simple. It’s not too late to get JC a present yet this Christmas. Will you make sure and give him a gift?
Forgive us, Lord God, when we forget whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. Forgive our self-centeredness when we focus on our wants and needs more than your wants. I pray your Spirit will instill within us a desire to reclaim Christmas more in the spirit you desire. Give is courage to go where we don’t want to go, to make sacrifices to follow you. Forgive us for the times we’ve chosen ease and comfort over your will. Forgive us for the times when we didn’t make ourselves available for your kingdom. As a church, may we walk humbly in this community and offer our lives daily. Here we are, your servants.