Define Necessity (Christmas Is Not Your Birthday)
This sermon was delivered at Christ United Methodist Church on Sunday, November 27, 2011. To listen to this sermon, click here.
16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read.17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
Luke 4:16-20, Common English Bible
The fourth Thursday in November. It’s the traditional due date for Christmas lists in the Juncker household. After we gorge ourselves on an extensive Thanksgiving meal, we sit and scavenge the ads from the newspaper and catalogues, dreaming big dreams about the stuff we’ll surely get from Santa Claus as long as we behave.
As I’ve gotten older, though some traditions have changed, scouring the ads and making my Christmas list has remained constant. Sure, the list has changed. As a child, I used to despise receiving clothing, especially socks and underwear. As I’ve grown older, these necessities have become a regular on my list. Legos and action figures have been exchanged for the latest high-tech gadgets.
According to the National Retail Federation, as of 2010, adult consumers spent on average $830 each on holiday food, decorations and presents. In a two-parent family that equates to roughly $1600.00!
While I love receiving gifts, I can’t help but think that something has gone wrong in our celebration of Christmas. After all, Christmas is not my birthday and it’s not your birthday: it’s Jesus’ birthday!
We’re so consumed with getting that we fail to acknowledge the true reason for the season. “We have professed allegiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism” that drives us deeper and deeper in debt.
I find it hard to believe that God would want us to celebrate his birth with more “stuff” we don’t need when there is so much poverty, starvation and malnutrition in the world.
I wonder what it would be like if we, the followers of Christ on the corner of 18th and Veterans Memorial Parkway, did Christmas differently? What would be like if, in celebration of Christ’s birth, we stopped fulfilling each other’s wants and started living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ by proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind in order to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?
What would it be like if we stopped giving self-less presents? Self-less presents are gifts that require little to no emotional or physical sacrifice. I wonder what it would be like if we stopped giving self-less presents and started giving self-full presence. Self-full presence is an emotional and physical state of being fully, sacrificially present with and for others.
The Christmas story, which we recall during this season of Advent, is packed with self-full presence. Mary gave herself wholly to God when she agreed to carry the Christ-child (Luke 1:38). Joseph sacrifices his reputation by agreeing to wed Mary, now pregnant, even though custom would have allowed him to walk away (Matthew 1:19-25). And most importantly, God gave Godself in the Christmas story—abandoning all the privileges of the Godhead in order to be in relationship and save the world he so loved (John 1:1-14, 3:16-17). The Christmas story is a story of people—and God—giving themselves fully for the sake of others: self-full presence.
What if we—like Mary, Joseph and God—gave ourselves fully in love to others? There are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians in the world. The United Methodist Church has 12.1 million members. There are more than 800 members of Christ United Methodist Church. What would it be like if we—as Christians, United Methodists or just the people of Christ United Methodist Church—each did something, sacrificed something, for the sake of another person outside our individual communities (families, churches, etc.).
If we truly embraced the idea of self-full giving, we might just find that Jesus’ mission, proclaimed in our Scripture lesson today, might be accomplished. The poor would hear the good news that the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matthew 20:1-16). The imprisoned would know God’s presence and be set free like Paul and Silas imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). The blind would see like the blind man Jesus healed in Bethsaida with a little spit and a gentle touch (Mark 8:22-25). The oppressed would be liberated like the Israelites, who after years of bondage in Egypt were led out slavery by a column of cloud by day and a column of lightning by night (Exodus 13:17-22).
In short, what we’d find if we truly celebrated Christmas in the self-full spirit of the story is that miracles can and do still happen when we set aside ourselves and reach out with God’s grace and love.
Jesus taught his disciples that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
This Advent, you’re invited on a journey as we try to “do December differently” celebrating Jesus’ birth in a way that magnifies the Lord and not ourselves. We’re asking you to give sacrificial, self-full gifts that further Christ’s mission of outreaching love to the world. We’re asking you to define necessity and spend as much on Christ’s mission as you do on yourself and your family.
This Advent and Christmas, Christ United Methodist Church is partnering with Our Saviour Lutheran Church, to continue Christ’s work by caring for the poor. With your self-full gifts of time and money, we hope to raise at least $20,000 and feed over 80,000 people. Regardless of the amount of money we raise, half of the meals will go to fight malnutrition in the Greater Lafayette area and half of the meals will go to fight starvation around the world. We’re asking you to give sacrificially in order to make a difference, for the glory of God, in Greater Lafayette and the world.
It begins with a quarter, and ends with a starving child receiving a well-balanced, nutritious meal.
A Kids Against Hunger meal packet costs just 23 cents per serving. That means that your donation of $84 will feed a child at least one nutritious meal a day for a year.
We’re asking for a miracle this Christmas. It sounds like a pipe-dream, but considering the fact that you all are pretty normal; and that the average American spends $830 on Christmas “stuff;” and there are on average 450 adults who worship here on Sunday morning; IF WE WERE TO GIVE HALF OF WHAT WE USUALLY SPEND ON CHRISTMAS TO FURTHER CHRIST’S MISSION, WE WOULD RAISE OVER $190,000 WHICH WOULD FEED OVER 800,000 MALNOURISHED OR STARVING CHILDREN.
Define necessity, give a sacrificial, self-full gift this Christmas, and continue Christ’s mission of outreaching love in the world.
That means, mom and dad, if you’re reading this sermon, know that if you’re going to spend the money to buy me that black 16GB, wifi enabled iPad2 that’s on my Christmas list this year (something I don’t really need), please spend just as much to feed starving kids in the Greater Lafayette area and around the world.
That means, Chandra (my wife), that whatever I decide to buy you for Christmas, there will be an equal amount debited from our checking account. I’m just giving you a heads up.
We’re asking you to redefine necessity this Christmas, and help us make a miracle occur. That means, you may have to do Christmas differently. But, that’s OK. After all, Christmas is not my birthday and it’s not your birthday: it’s Jesus’ birthday.
 Michael Slaughter, Christmas is Not Your Birthday (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2011). Also found in the resource, Living and Giving Like Jesus: Week 1. Christmas is Not Your Birthday, prepared by Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church.