I have often heard congregations explain Christmas to children by telling them we are celebrating Jesus’ birthday. We’re having a party! This makes it easy to explain our Christmas traditions: On Jesus’ birthday we all give and receive presents, we light candles and sing, we have special cake or cookies or other desserts, and so on. It makes Jesus seem more like us – we have a birthday, Jesus was a baby and he has a birthday. I have seen religious supply stores offer the sale of hats, party bags and Jesus cake decorations all around this birthday-theme.
While this is fun to do with young kids, we as adults might also be attracted to this explanation because the truth requires more of us. There isn’t anyone else for whom we celebrate their 2,015th (approxiamately) birthday . The limitation of this birthday language reinforces the idea that Jesus was born once in history, a long time ago and that’s it. We celebrate a past event, and like other birthdays, once the party is over, we move on with our own life as if nothing has changed.
But something has changed for us – something radical and life-transforming. The real story of Christmas is not that Jesus was born once in history, but that he continues to be born—not just once a year, but every single day. He is born right now; Jesus is born in us and becomes an intimate part of our lives and our life story. Our lives change every day that we allow Jesus to be born in us.
Perhaps this is why the story of Jesus is so compelling and why the Bible is the best- selling book of all time. Because it’s really about God’s intimate involvement in humanity – in the lives of those who came before us and in our lives today. The Bible shares the narrative about God’s relationship—God’s deep involvement in human life—and how we experience it and what it means. It’s not just about past events, the Bible is about how God continues to be present in our lives here and now and in the future.
We are the on-going narrative of God’s love for and activity in the world. This is why we love to hear the Christmas story over and over and over–we find ourselves in this very human story, opening us up to see how God is present and at work in our lives today. This kind of deep truth asks us for our attention, our involvement, our willingness to be changed and shaped by this Jesus who is born not just in history, but in us today.
As Jesus is born in us, God invites us into the story as it unfolds and seeks to meet us with this message of love, forgiveness and hope. We enter the story at different points depending on the circumstances and time of our life; we enter the story with the diverse characters depending on the emotions and needs of our soul.
• Sometimes we are Mary pondering the meaning of faith in our hearts;
• Perhaps we are the innkeeper who just doesn’t seem to have any room for God;
• Sometimes we might feel like a barn animal – at such a low place in our life physically, emotionally or spiritually, we are shocked that Jesus has come to live with us;
• Maybe we are like the shepherds, going about our business when God breaks into our lives and we are compelled to follow a new path;
• Perhaps we are like the Wise Sages – on a long journey to encounter God, seeking the holy and sacred for ourselves and the world;
• Sometimes we are like the angels and we enter the story with so much gratitude we can’t help but sing and share the news of what God has done for us.
As we hear God enter the lives of everyone in the story – no matter their station, emotions, circumstances or faith, we experience once again that God enters us. We behold in the baby at Bethlehem, the living Christ who dwells within us and lives out the story of God’s love and engagement in the world through us.
Rather than showing up for a party and leaving unchanged, we become the Incarnation of God as we leave the manger; we become the gift of love and forgiveness for others, we become the people through whom Jesus acts as we follow a God who is deeply involved in the world.
The story was true in history; the story is true today and you are part of it. Jesus is born for you and in you. And you are changed forever. For you are the incarnation of Jesus Christ in God’s unfolding story in the world.
Photo Credit: ValerieTarico.com File:04567 Christmas nativity scene at the Franciscan church in nativity DeviantArt