that’s what rituals do you know, they help us to remember things or events that we don’t want to forget. Birthdays, for example, we celebrate them every year, our own and those of others. Lot’s of rituals and traditions are associated with this celebration such as cake, candles. wishes, presents and even a song specific to the occasion. Why do we do this? To remember the day we were born? are we afraid we’ll forget? and just what are we celebrating? another year of life? gratitude for another person’s presence in our life? in essence saying to them, “I’m glad you were born! let’s celebrate!”
We usually celebrate the birthdays of those still living, but we do celebrate the birthdays of some famous people who have long since left this earth. Of course, those celebrations may get merged together, as with Presidents’ Day, in memory of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Do we really remember them and what they did for our country? or is it just a day off from school and work with not a thought as to why? What’s the point of the celebration or ritual if it doesn’t cause us or help us to remember what it is that we are celebrating and why?
Have you ever been at a birthday celebration where someone just “came for the cake”? Or maybe they gave themselves away during the singing of the birthday song, when they didn’t know the name of the person to whom they were singing! If that isn’t a clue that they have no idea what or who they are celebrating, I don’t know what would be.
Christmas is a birthday celebration. It is a ritual of remembrance that seemingly is celebrated all over the world, across many languages, nations and cultures. Christmas is the ultimate birthday party bash. It has not just one birthday song, but countless carols written over the years. It has not just one cake, but cakes, cookies, pies, candies, treats of every kind imaginable. And candles? Candles are not just on a cake, they are everywhere you look. In windows, in churches, in homes, inside and outside, candles light up the darkness.
And presents? Retailers live for Christmas! They count on people buying gifts, multiple gifts, so many gifts as they participate in the birthday celebration of Christmas. Ironically, we give these gifts to each other instead of to the person whose birthday we are celebrating. This is quite the twist on the usual custom of bringing and bestowing gifts on the person whose birthday party we are attending.
But what if we don’t know whose birthday everyone around us is celebrating? Or we know whose birthday it is, but we don’t really know (or maybe aren’t crazy about) him or her? Do we just go for the cake? Why should we miss out on all the good food, the presents and the fun just because we don’t exactly know what all the fuss is about? We don’t exactly know what’s so special about this person, who was born so long ago (two thousand nineteen years ago to be exact) that the whole world still takes time off to celebrate and to remember His birthday every year.
Why? Could it be that Christmas is more than just another birthday party? another reason for cake and candles and time off work? Why is Jesus’ birth more celebration worthy than any other? The answer to that question unlocks the key to the true meaning of Christmas which often lies hidden underneath piles of presents or it gets lost in the frantic scramble to prepare the party. So much so that we no longer remember Who we are celebrating.
So we celebrate without the remembering. And when we do, we find the party leaves us empty, more empty and unsatisfied than we were before we attended the party. We attend but we never even meet or spend time with the guest of honor, the Person whose birthday it is. If there is nothing for us to remember, there is no reason for us to rejoice. We have nothing to celebrate.
If only we realized that we are all invited to Jesus’ birthday party, that we all have cause to celebrate His birth because He came for each and everyone of us! Jesus is God’s gift to the world. There are those who refuse God’s gift but no one is excluded from God’s invitation to come to the party, to meet and to know and then to celebrate His Son.
Jesus’ birth is the most extraordinary event in human history. Long foretold by prophets like Isaiah, the Israelites had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah, the One who would deliver them from all their suffering and oppression. Only problem is, when Jesus was born, they did not recognize Him as their promised Deliverer and King. They expected God to send someone with position, power and prestige to rescue them, someone who would arrive with great fanfare and earthly pomp and circumstance.
Jesus’ birth contained none of those elements. It was the opposite of what they were expecting. Born in an obscure location, to poor parents who had nowhere to stay, forcing them to spend Jesus’ first night in a stable with the animals, Jesus’ entrance into our world seemed less than noteworthy. (well, except for the angels talking to the shepherds, one spectacular star, and some kings from other countries traveling great distances just to see and to worship Him – otherwise pretty routine stuff)
Why celebrate Jesus’ birthday every December 25th? What is it we need to be reminded of once again? That God came down to live among us for awhile? That He kept His promise to send us a Savior?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Those are two pretty incredible things for us to remember, and when we do recall what God did for us when He sent Jesus, we most certainly have reason to celebrate.
Simeon understood this. Simeon was a man waiting for God to send the Savior that He had promised His people so many years before. In Luke 2:28-32 we read what Simeon had to say when he encountered the baby Jesus in the temple courts, “Simeon took Him (Jesus) in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.’ ”
Jesus had come into the world and the world would never be the same again. Simeon knew this. I know this too. But it seems I need to be reminded or I forget just what it is that I am celebrating when I celebrate Jesus’ birth. Because you see, the baby in the manger became the Christ on the cross. When I celebrate Jesus’ birth, I am also remembering and celebrating His sacrificial death on the cross and His victorious resurrection, conquering death for all time. That’s a lot to celebrate!
When I celebrate Jesus’ birth, I am celebrating the lifting of the law, the tearing of the curtain, the forgiveness of my sin, God’s gift of salvation, God’s presence come to live with us and then in us, sealing us for the day of redemption. Christmas is a time to remember, to reflect and to rejoice over what God did for us in sending Jesus. I experience in Jesus’ birth the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind, God’s faithfulness and God’s inexplicable care for me and for each one of us, in providing the sacrifice for us as He did for Abraham on that mountain so long ago, so that I can be reconciled to Him.
Christmas is a birthday party celebrating Jesus’ birth and the whole world is invited. No one is excluded. The rituals surrounding Christmas – presents, lights, trees, carols, nativity scenes, all are to help us remember who and why we are celebrating. And it is when we take the time to really remember, that we are filled with joy at what God did for us that night.
“Heaven came down and glory filled my soul”, the song says. That night, heaven came down in the form of a newborn baby and His glory filled the sky and the unsuspecting, slumbering earth as well.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’ ” (Luke 2:9-14)
The birthday party that is Christmas is our ritual of remembrance. It is for us to remember, rejoice and share our joy with a hurting world. They need to know the good news of Christmas.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
sincerely, Grace Day