Christmas is not Your Birthday!
1 John 3:16-18
Rev. Sandy Johnson
August 7, 2016
Some of you here this morning might be asking yourself, Christmas? Really? What does Christmas have to do with the first Sunday in August?! I had originally planned to be gone this week and this sermon would have been shared the last Sunday in July and then a “Christmas in July” might not seem so strange.
Let’s just pretend that we are still in July and talking about Christmas this morning won’t seem so unusual. Deal?
Christmas 2010. I will never forget this transformational season. It was the beginning of a new era for my family. We were members at FaithSprings UMF in SW Las Vegas and we were presented with a novel idea as we began Advent. What if we realigned our priorities and refocused ourselves on Christ at Christmas and not get sucked into the incessant commercialism of Christmas? The pastor presented a novel approach to the holiday. We were asked to evaluate our giving budgets and consider whether we were honoring Christ or honoring mammon.
So, we looked at what we had budgeted and we cut back. Then we gave that money to a charity called Advent Conspiracy. We each agreed to receive “less” and in doing so we also agreed that we would give to this charity. Advent conspiracy is an organization that teaches Christians to rethink their priorities. They pushed us to reimagine what Christmas could be like if we gave up our own selfishness and thought outside of the box, if we made Christmas about Jesus birthday instead of a Santa Clause toy orgy. We were taught to think about Christmas not in terms of stuff and gifts, but in terms of a miracle, of impacting lives, of reaching out to those in need.
The Advent Conspiracy focused specifically on solutions to address the global water crisis. There are 663 million people, or 1 in 10, world-wide, who lack access to safe water. This group of Christians set this as their goal, they would raise needed funds to bring fresh drinking water to some of those millions of people. Making a decision to spend less on ourselves, we were honored to participate in a small miracle with water.
That year we cut our Christmas giving budget in half and donated the other half. We had been asked to give equal to our Christmas spending and that seemed the best way to do that. I was worried that our kids would rebel. They had been used to receiving numerous gifts and this would mean a big change for them.
The best part about the experience for me was seeing our children buy into the idea that it was ok to give and receive fewer Christmas gifts. Cameron that year wanted a handheld game, a Nintendo DS. The only way we could get that for him on this new budget was to buy a used game set. What would he think?! Wouldn’t he care if his gift was used? Would he somehow think I loved him less because it didn’t come shiny and new? He didn’t even notice. I was stunned to watch my daughter opening her gifts and one of her most favorite gifts was a phone case we had picked up at the dollar store.
I was shocked at the result of this experiment. I was stunned to realize that I had had it all wrong. Christmas wasn’t supposed to be OUR birthday. It really was Christ’s birthday and we were called to share gifts, not with each other, but with those who really need it. Those who needed things like safe drinking water, food and clothing. Things we take for granted. I can say we have never looked back.
It is because of that experience that I am inspired to share this morning. It is my prayer that we can begin to imagine what would happen to each of us, if we gave up one, just one of our gifts this Christmas and instead gave a gift to Jesus. What miracle could we enact? How could we take back our hijacked Christmas and honor Christ in the process?
Every year it is estimated by the National Retail Federation that adult consumers spend an average of $830 during the Christmas season on food, decorations and presents. In a two parent home that equates to more than $1600.00. Many feel pressure to go into debt to create the perfect Christmas. You know the one that Norman Rockwell made famous?!
I want to challenge us to not succumb to the lure of Madison Avenue and instead to consider giving Christ back his birthday. To make that happen, we have to begin planning now.
When Jesus was born into this world, he did not come as most thought the messiah would. He was not a military leader or a great Monarch as many had assumed. “He arrived on the scene not in strength but in weakness. He was born a Palestinian Jew, into a community of marginalized, oppressed people, spending his early years as a refugee in Africa, eluding political genocide. His formative years were spent in a nondescript village, as a member of an ordinary working-class family.”
Jesus resisted the temptation to become of the world and he taught his followers then, and us today, that we are to love one another. We must also resist the temptation to fall prey to the god-like qualities of Santa Claus. Does it ever occur to you that we have made Santa a bit like God? Remember the song? “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good!” Our popular notions of Santa Claus reflect the way we have reduced God to a mythical watchdog who judges our niceness or naughtiness and metes out rewards or punishments accordingly. This is not the God we see in Jesus!”
The only gift we will receive from Jesus is the only gift we need. That is his love and forgiveness. Nothing else matters but our relationship with Christ. And when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, when we accept Christ as our savior, we can never be the same. We have to get our priorities straight. We must stop being guided down the wrong path, led by the marketing gurus who are convincing us how we should live our lives, what we should wear, drink, smoke, or drive. Jesus only asks that we take care of those in the margins, and he suggests in Matthew 25:40 that what we do to the least of these members in our society, we have done for Christ. As followers of Christ Jesus we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in our neighborhood.
How do we do that? We do that by giving as Christ calls us to give. John Wesley identified the wallet as the last thing to be converted in a person’s life, and Jesus spoke more about money and materialism than any other single topic except the kingdom of God. It must be important, yes? He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).”
All of us here in this room have a decision to make. Are we followers of God or Mammon? Do we have what it takes to be miracle makers? We are all followers of Jesus Christ and we are all inspired by Christ to do more, give more, be more with Christ than we could ever be alone. We are called to transform lives – our own and those we come in contact with, both here in Boulder City and around our world. We are change agents and we must stand up and claim this role.
Jesus laid down his life for us. He gave the ultimate sacrifice when he followed through on God’s redemptive plan and he hung on a cross and died so that each one of us might be filled with the Holy Spirit and given the opportunity to be Christ-like in our lives. He has created each of us with a heart full of love and passion for others. Christ wants us to see the needs around us and do something about it. Christmas time is the perfect time to give a gift back to Christ in thankfulness and love for the life he has given to us.
Christ says we are to demonstrate our love not only in word or speech, but by our truth and action. We are to do more than make a monetary donation to charity. We are challenged by Christ to be leaders in the fight for social justice. It is us who are being watched, and it is our actions that others will imitate. We must make the first step and dare to demonstrate our generosity first.
As we prepare for this Christmas season I want all of us to prayerfully consider how we will respond to the opportunity to be miracle makers. I want all of us to think about our resources and what we spend during the season and ask whether it’s time to cut back on our gifts to friends and family and give a gift to Christ instead.
We are still discerning what miracle we will enact, whether it is to help our local community with food for the hungry, whether we might make relief-supply kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief that would help those in need where the greatest need is. Perhaps God will lead us to boldly reach out to help refugees, as we remember that our own savior was himself a refugee. We must all work together, prayerfully considering what God is calling us to do. I believe strongly that it is time for us to give sacrificially not only day to day in support of our regular ministries; but especially at Christmas so that we can reclaim Christ’s birthday and give him a celebration worthy of a King.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we bow before you now and humbly offer ourselves to be used as miracle makers. Guide us to the charity, project or need that we can fill, a need that will stretch us as a congregation and give you plenty of room to enact this miracle. We are eagerly waiting to be used in this way and trust you in all things to make it so. We say this prayer in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
 Inspired by Michael Slaughter and his book, Christmas is not your Birthday.
 Slaughter, Mike. Christmas is not your Birthday. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2011. Page 2
 Ibid, Page 3
 Ibid, Page 5
 1 John 3:18