Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent 2: Whose Birthday Are YOU Celebrating?

Whose Birthday is it, Anyway?

Lest you get distracted by all frenzy and commercialism, here is a different perspective on the celebration drawing nearer each day.    

Mary’s Dream
author unknown
I had a dream, Joseph.
I don't understand it, not really, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son.   I think that was what it was all about. 
The people had been preparing for it for about six weeks.   They had decorated their homes and bought new clothes.   They'd gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts.    It was peculiar, though, because the presents weren't for our Son.   They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree.
Yes, a tree, Joseph, right in their house.   They'd decorated the tree also.   The branches were full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments.   There was a figure on the top of the tree.   It looked like an angel might look.   Oh, it was beautiful.
Everyone was laughing and happy.   They were all excited about the gifts.   They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not our Son.   I don't think they even knew Him.   They never mentioned His name. 
Doesn't it seem odd, Joseph, for people to go through all that trouble to celebrate someone's birthday if they don't know Him?   I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration he would have been intruding. 
Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so full of cheer, but it made me want to cry.   How sad for Jesus - not to be wanted at His own birthday celebration.
I'm glad it was only a dream.  How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.            

How Terrible, Indeed!

Some years ago, a friend mentioned that her family celebrated "half-birthdays."    I had no clue what she was talking about, so she explained that she and her husband were disgusted by the greedy gimmees they were seeing at Christmas-time (within their family and our society) and wanted their family celebration of Christ's birth to reflect that it was HIS birthday rather than a time for THEM to get and give a slew of presents.    

They decided to discontinue gift-giving within their immediate family (them & their children) on Christmas except for one little present or stocking gifts and instead celebrate half-birthdays.    Your half-birthday occurs six months after your "real" birthday--in a whole different season of the year.    So they gave presents midway through the year for each family member.    They still spent roughly the same amount of money as before but now it was spread out over a full year, instead of one day in December.  

The benefit of this was that Christ's birth became the main focus of Christmas.    The family budget wasn't stretched and blown in one big spending spree which made Dad happier.   Mom wasn't inundated with gifts to wrap and hide.    They still received a gifts from grand-parents and relatives, but within their own family the gift-giving was greatly reduced.    Instead of stockings, my friend made each family member a "camel pack" similar to maybe something the Wise Men may have carried.    

Just like my friend, I was fed up with the worldly focus that Christmas had become, even in our own supposedly Christian home, but Dear Hub and I had never before come up with a work-able alternative.   But this idea?  This I could see doing.    

“Therefore, I urge you, ... in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, 
holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.
Romans 12:1 NIV

First of all, just thinking about doing this reduced my stress level!    I don't much care for shopping, and having to figure out and buy presents in a crowded store and spending a pile of money on top of it, ugh.   Then there was always the aggravation of keeping track of hidden presents purchased on sale in the summer.    Secondly, I knew my Dearly Beloved would like the idea of spreading the spending out over a year.   

Most importantly, this gave us a work-able solution....a way to bring CHRIST back to center-stage for the celebration of His birth.   Here was an idea that had true merit.     

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.   Hub and I talked it over, and, as expected, he caught on immediately.  The kids were not as keen on the whole crackpot idea, though.    Of course their little ears only heard the part about "not so many presents at Christmas."    We asked them to trust us that it would work out and once the first full-year went by, the idea was locked in their heads, too.  We still received gave gifts to and received from other family members on December 24 or 25:  grandparents, name exchanges with relatives, friends.    But within our family circle, we cut back drastically.

The great part of this endeavor was that the children enjoyed receiving gifts half-way through their year.   And celebrating a half-birthday meant my winter babies could now enjoy warm-weather party fun--instead of only being cooped up inside!   The boys were never big on inviting friends over, but our daughter certainly made up for lost time and had pool parties and sleep-overs in the tent set up in the backyard!

Like Mary's concerns in the poem above, too often we Christians get caught up in the commercial focus of Christmas and gift-giving--completely forgetting that it is CHRIST's birthday we are celebrating.    Too often Christians at Christmas look or sound no different from their unbelieving counterparts.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—
His good, pleasing and perfect will.” 
Romans 12:2 NIV 

Take a GOOD and HARD look at the list below.....
  • Gift-giving:    What is your motivation?   Are you truly celebrating Christ's birth?
  • Music you're listening to:  Does it celebrate Christ or Santa or worldly commercialism?  
  • Decorations:    Could someone know immediately --just from looking-- that you're a Christian?
  • Correspondence: Do your cards tell about Christ's birth or a "holiday" or "season"?    Does your Christmas letter reflect joy in the blessings God has sent over the past year?  
  • Cookies:    Do you get caught up in the chore or do you find joy in sharing with others?
  • Parties:   Can you share the Christmas story with your co-workers or friends?
  • December:   How are you spending the month between Thanksgiving & Christmas?   Are you frantically running around trying to buy or make the perfect present or getting the house to be picture-perfect for a photo-op?   Are you spending any time really and truly reflecting on the enormity of God coming to Earth because of  your very own sinfulness?    Do you make time to read your Bible?   Are you teaching your children the facts or the fantasy of Christmas?

Eternal Father, we praise You for keeping Your promise and sending Your Son to destroy the works of the devil and redeeming us from sin.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our King, use Your mighty Word to shatter our pride and to rouse us from spiritual slumber and apathy.

In these days before Christmas, fill our lives with the message of Your peace and music of Your grace.

Heavenly Father, direct our eyes not only to the manger but also to the skies where we will see Your Son coming again as the Lord of Lords.   Lift our hearts in joyful anticipation of that day. 

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