Christmas Eve: “Jesus’ Birthday Party”
December 24, 2022
When I was a kid, I was taught that Christmas is kind of like a big birthday party for Jesus—one year we even baked a cake for him. After a few years of this as I got older, I found it a bit silly, but now that I have a child of my own, I’ve been thinking more about how I want to teach her about Christmas. So I thought a lot about birthday parties this week.
And it took me back to my childhood. Because for some reason when we become adults we decide that birthday parties aren’t really fun anymore and are just for kids. I don’t understand this.
But I’m curious for our kids in the room, who has ever been invited to a birthday party? Was it fun?
Maybe it’s been a little while for the rest of us in the room who didn’t graduate second grade last week, but I’m sure we can all remember what it felt like as a kid to get that card in the mail, that read in big bold letters: “You’re invited!”
I remember one of the best birthday parties I went to was for Charlie Ogden in the third grade. And Charlie decided to invite the whole class – like all 30 of us, girls and guys – bless his parents—we all got the invite.
The girls in the class came just for the evening and we played a lot of games and there were prizes and big bags full of party favors. Then the girls went home and all the guys stayed the night and woke up to a feast of a breakfast, followed by hours of lightsaber duels in the backyard with all of these plastic lightsabers that lit up and made noises when banged together. It was a wonderful time.
There’s something special about birthday parties that can bring together so many different groups of people, and there’s an energy that’s exciting to it. Birthday parties are so fun.
Except when you aren’t invited.
While I’m sure most of us can recall those birthday parties we were invited to, we probably also remember with painful clarity the birthday parties we were not invited to. You know it’s happening, you’ve heard all the other kids in class talking about it, and you know that you didn’t get an invite.
For me, it was Luke Pedersen’s birthday party in 7th grade. Luke was in my friend group of about 10 guys – we all sat together at lunch and played on the same floor hockey team. But I was always a little on the outs of this friend group.
And to give some context, I certainly wasn’t the coolest kid in jr. high. I was a little goofy, I played chess for fun and sometimes did my math homework during free time outside. Oh, and I wore sweatpants to school every single day, with my shirt tucked into them—yes, it was a whole look.
I remember partway through seventh grade, my mom – bless her soul – one day said, “That’s enough with the sweatpants, Matt. I’m taking you to the store right now. I’m going to buy you some jeans, you’re going to wear them, and you will like them.” Jeans probably upped by coolness factor a little bit, but I still didn’t quite fit in with the group.
And Luke’s birthday party confirmed it. Every guy in the group was invited except for me and one other guy. And we knew it was happening and that we had been left out. It hurt. It really really hurt.
Ah, Jr. high, am I right?. Let’s be honest: none of us want to go back and relive jr. high. Whether it was a birthday party or something else, we all had that experience early on in life that drove right to that insecurity, that question that lurks deep in every soul: “Am I enough?” Jr. high certainly amplifies this question: Am I cool enough to fit in? Am I popular enough to get noticed? Am I pretty enough or slim enough or straight enough to not be made fun of?
It’s funny, because we all grew out of jr. high, but we didn’t really outgrow jr. high…if you get what I mean. Because, as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, we never really left behind that insecure wondering of: am I enough? Even as you age, you probably don’t have as many birthday parties you need to worry about being invited to or not, but that question still sits deep and sometimes buried in our souls. “Am I enough?”
And why wouldn’t we wonder about this! We have a choir of voices all around us telling us of all the products and services and experiences we need to purchase or partake in to be enough.
Buy this gym membership and you’ll be strong and slim enough. Go to this school and you’ll be smart enough. Buy this product and you’ll be beautiful enough. Work in this career and you’ll be respectable. Start this daily routine or invest in this or go on this trip and you’ll be happy enough. Become like this and then you will be enough. But you are not enough as you are now—that’s what we hear anyways. It’s like jr. high all over again, except it’s all day every day that we get this messaging. Think about how much of our life revolves around trying to answer this question, “Am I enough?”
And this is why I love the Christmas story so much. Because in many ways, it’s really a story that’s all about addressing this question that we’re stuck with like a bad haircut; it’s a story that shows us God’s response to our wondering, “Am I enough?”
And what is God’s response?
Well, God decides to throw a birthday party. And the angels hand deliver the invite card to the last people you’d ever expect to be invited to such an important birthday party: a bunch of shepherds. Shepherds in the ancient world were like the uncoolest kids in jr. high. Nobody wanted them around.
Shepherds knew the answer to the question, “Am I enough?” Because society let them know in no uncertain terms that they were most definitely not enough.
If you found out that the God of the universe was throwing a birthday party for his son, whom he sent to come fix what’s wrong with the world, who would you expect God to invite to such a party? You’d probably expect to find all the most important people: the kings and queens, the wealthy and powerful, the jocks, the cool kids.
But instead, for some reason, God invites a bunch of lowly shepherds who nobody wants around, to the most important birthday party of all time. What is God up to?
The angels deliver an invite to the shepherds that reads: “We bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. This day a Savior has been born unto you.”
God has sent a Savior. And the shepherds of all people are invited to come meet him.
I wonder what was going through the shepherds’ minds as they’re invited to this birthday party. But most of all, I wonder whose party they expected to show up at? Obviously someone important if they came to save us and fix what’s wrong with the world.
I bet the shepherds expected to find a strong leader, maybe the regal king-type who would get things done. Or maybe a motivational speaker, like a Ted Talker, to come give us motivational wisdom on how to turn our lives around. Or maybe they thought God would send a celebrity who has a bead on all the best products and lifestyle changes that can lead to a healthier, fuller life.
If I was a shepherd, I’d probably expect to find any of these people before I found who God really sent to save us.
Instead of sending someone we’d expect, the shepherds find that God sent us a baby. A vulnerable, sweet baby, swaddled and lying in a pig trough. And the thing about babies is that they don’t really have anything brilliant or motivational or moving or life-changing to offer. They just are; they eat and poop and sleep; all you can really do with a baby is hold them and experience their warmth and their loving gaze.
What’s been incredible about being a dad is realizing that Iona doesn’t care one bit about what I do for a living, or how much money I make or what I look like or how cool or how put together I am. She just loves me and wants me to be in her life. That’s it. I don’t have to prove anything to her, I just have to show up each day.
God’s choice to send us a savior in the form of a baby seems intentional to me.
In a world where most of the messaging we ingest is that you are not enough…you’re not fit enough, pretty enough, rich enough, smart enough, you don’t have enough friends or followers. You’re not enough!…
It is into this world that God sent his son with a message of good news. And the good news that is packaged as a baby in a manger, is that you are enough. Because this baby would one day grow into a man who is bent on showing you how much God loves you. And he invites you to live into this life-changing good news. Just like Charlie Ogden in my third grade class, God is inviting everyone to the birthday party to celebrate the good news, even the unpopular kids, like shepherds and people who only wear sweatpants with their shirt tucked in.
The good news isn’t: shape up and then God will love you. Be better and then you’ll be good enough. The good news is that the God of the universe loves you for exactly who you are in this moment right now. Imperfections, blemishes, nerdy sweatpants and all.
In just a few moments while we light our candles, we’ll sing one of my favorite Christmas songs, “O Holy Night”. There’s a line in the song that reads: “Then God appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.”
This is what we celebrate at Christmastime: that God came near so that our souls could feel their true worth. God came near so that you would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are loved and cherished and beautifully and wonderfully made, and that you are more than enough.
So as we light our candles to acknowledge that Jesus is the light of the world, I invite us to make this more than just a sentimental moment during a couple familiar songs.
Allow it to be a celebration and an encounter with your God who loves you and thinks you are more than enough, just as you are.
As I invite our ushers to come forward and help us light our candles, let us celebrate this good news of great joy that is for all people. Amen.