My birthday is December 24. For a long time, longer than I care to admit, I thought my birthday was actually on Christmas because my family always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve night. By the time we went to sleep, after the final Christmas Eve service (and there were a few of them since my dad was a pastor), Christmas, for all intents and purposes, was over. We would have a nice dinner on Christmas Day, play with our presents, but there wasn’t any gift giving or receiving, no carols or candles, no Santa or stockings.
For the record, my parents did a wonderful job of making sure my Christmas birthday was adequately and even uniquely acknowledged. In fact, I think they took great pains to do so, realizing that a Christmas birthday and being a PK presented significant challenges for celebrating the season, let alone a birthday.
I’ll never forget the day I learned that my birthday was not really Christmas — and no, I will not tell you how old I was. Someone asked me on what day I was born. When I said “Christmas Eve” the response was, “Oh no! The day before Christmas! What a terrible day for a birthday!”
What? My birthday was not on Christmas? And wait! Why would that be a terrible birthday? I had never felt that, ever. I always thought it was a most wonderful day for a birthday — the lights, the presents, the family, the food, the carols. I consistently felt caught up in its anticipation and excitement, in its merriment and festivities, and even in its quiet and reflective calm. These all seemed normal and natural for a birthday celebration. They do, don’t they?
Of course, we do not know the actual date of Jesus’ birth, but it was certainly a good day to be born. It always is a good day to be born.
Part of what Jesus’ birth reminds us, every year, is that birth days matter — on so many levels. I wonder if one way to preach the meaning of Jesus’ birth is to preach that it gives meaning to our own. That God was born matters significantly. It means intimacy and love and family, uniqueness and nurture, creation. At the same time, it means everything that is opposite of what I just said. Being pregnant is dangerous. Bringing new life into this world is terrifying. Realizing the responsibility for the care of a child is formidable and frightening. Grieving the loss of a child known only for minutes, days, weeks, or months is sorrow beyond measure. Jesus’ birth cannot only speak of the joy of new life. It has to speak into the paradox of what life then entails — the simultaneity of its wonder and fragility, its re-creation and the need for resurrection, its joy and profound pain.
Birthdays bring about reflection. Where you are now, where you were a year ago, where you want to go from here. We might imagine celebrating Jesus’ birth in a similar manner. Where is Jesus in your life now or who is Jesus for you now? Who has Jesus been for you this past year? Who do you need Jesus to be, or how will you pray for the presence of the incarnated Christ into your embodied reality in this next year?
And then to ask the same questions communally, nationally, globally — where and how do we need Jesus in this moment, Christmas, 2014? Where did we need Jesus this past year and why? How will we call upon Jesus for comfort and peace, for counsel and might, for hope and love in the year to come?
Birthdays also bring about renewal. One certainly did on a quiet night long, long ago. Christmas was a good day to be born. Every day is a good day to be born.
I hope and pray that your Christmas preaching and the promised presence of Christ in your proclamation will grant you peace and joy, now, in your remembering, and in your anticipation of God’s gift of your future in the new year.