Some people like parties more than others, but almost everyone will make an effort to celebrate a birthday, largely because it is an opportunity to honor a person close to us. Although God did not command we celebrate birthdays like He commanded the ancient Israelites to celebrate specific festivals, I have to think he is pleased with the idea, especially when we give Him the glory for being Creator of the life we’re celebrating.
So if we take joy in celebrating family and friends yearly, it makes perfect sense that we would treat with the most special honor, the birthday of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Those ancient festivals mentioned above were a foreshadowing of Jesus Who later came as Immanuel. Therefore, His birth, which is what Christmas is supposed to be about, really should be celebrated. However, there is a glaring difference between the reverential focus on God’s holiness practiced by the Israelites, and the current dismissiveness of the miracle of God’s coming to Earth as a baby, illustrated by the materialistic commercialization and secularization of Christmas with Santa, snowmen, and flying reindeer. Thankfully, we still see Jesus publicly celebrated in churches. But even then it is sometimes more about pageants, special music, and programs aimed at the needy, than the reverential worship of God’s holiness and love. If Jesus’ incarnation was the most magnificent love- and joy-filled world-event to that point, can’t we do better lauding this overwhelming reality than the honorable mention He currently receives?
Perhaps the starting place is resetting our expectations for the party. While a lot of us think that big is better, didn’t the Father give us a hint that He enjoyed the intimacy of small numbers? Only Mary, Joseph, and a few barn animals witnessed the miraculous birth. There were probably less than five shepherds on night duty when the sky ignited in heavenly glory with thousands of angels. And hundreds of miles away, only three scholars studying the stars understood something world-changing had just taken place. While God had made the pre-announcement through the prophet Isaiah 400 years in advance, He didn’t send out a save-the-date card with specifics, and so the night passed as any other night to most of the world.
If we had no celebratory foods, no holiday decorations, no abundance of gifts, no extended family guests, could we move beyond the disappointment of not enjoying our traditions to worship Jesus with all our hearts? Charles Dickins made an attempt to immortalize that idea in his famous story, “A Christmas Carol,” but failed by substituting love for family and other people for Jesus. Although Jesus taught us those things, it is the teacher, rather than the lesson that should be glorified: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) What if the most honoring thing to our Lord is the heartfelt confession that He is our first Love? The sincerity of that proclamation is confirmed in the experience of inexpressible intimacy with Him that causes everything else to pale in comparison. In the joy of Jesus’ light and life, traditions and trappings get to take a back seat. The subsequent life-ride with Immanuel is no longer a romanticized version of that first birthday party, but the blessed assurance of knowing in Whom we have believed. (2 Timothy 1:12)