Thirty-nine years ago tonight, a wide-eyed, eight year old boy was introduced to a new kind of Jesus.
We had just begun attending a wild-haired hippie church called Redeemer Temple in Denver, Colorado. The Jesus Movement was running full throttle at that time, and the church I attended had its foot on the accelerator. Every week, young men wandered into our worship service wearing jeans and no shirts with their teenage girlfriends following behind them wearing short shorts and halter tops. Many of them gave their hearts to Christ. Sunday nights, we baptized the new Jesus devotees in a baptismal—sometimes needing to drain the water halfway through and refill the tank because the water was so dirty. The hippie converts hadn’t yet heard that cleanliness was next to godliness.
In our church’s youthful exuberance, our leaders decided to throw a Jesus Birthday party on December 23. And, they invited one of the most well-known singers at the time.
In his previous life, Barry McGuire was the star of the Broadway musical Hair and singer-songwriter of the angst-ridden Hippie Movement anthem “Eve of Destruction.” Playing next to him was another man—Paul Clark—who attended my parents’ Bible study and would soon leave our church to tour with Larry Norman, the Jesus Movement’s icon.
But what do I remember most about the evening? A throng of young people worshipping Jesus, celebrating his birth.
Now, I like sentimental Christmas songs, even “holiday” songs that don’t mention Jesus. But sentimentalism isn’t the point of Christmas. Nor is family, food, friends, or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. It’s not about the holiday season, season’s greetings, or yuletide. It‘s not even about giving gifts to each other.
Christmas is about Christ. Essentially, it means throwing a birthday party for Jesus. Somehow on my side of the world, we can easily lose sight of this amidst Christmas busyness, parties, and family celebrations.
So this year I have a request: keep Christ in Christmas. Give presents to your family and friends—but remember to give Jesus the best present of all: your presence.
On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:11 (NIV)
If you don’t have plans for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve and you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church–5:30pm, December 24 in the Dakota Ridge High School auditorium.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’d love to eat a big piece of birthday cake on Jesus’ birthday.