Tag Archives: The meaning of Christmas

The Jesus Birthday party

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.

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How To Celebrate Christmas in Guatemala and the Meaning of Christmas

By Brendan Scott

Last year I learned the meaning of Christmas.  I spent Christmas 2010 in Guatemala, away from the snow of Colorado and more importantly away from my family.  Guatemala, or at least my home city of Xela, doesn’t celebrate Christmas the way most of the world celebrates the birth of Christ.  Sure at the Inter-American School, where I worked, we had a Christmas Play.  Last year the elementary performed the well known play Izzy Saves Christmas, where Izzy the mouse saves Christmas.  Haven’t heard of it?  Well, it’s a Guatemalan staple, or it is now.

I also taught my students what the best kind of Christmas party is; a White Elephant Party.  Who doesn’t want to go home with an alarm clock in a country where it is better to use your cellphone as an alarm at night, because anything plugged into the wall just might lose power.

But where Guatemala, and especially Xela, differs from Christmas in the United States is Christmas Eve.  Growing up as a Presbyterian Pastor’s kid, in the United States my family’s Christmas tradition centered around our church’s Christmas Eve service.  Every year, especially when I was younger, my mom would force me into my Christmas best, drive me and my sisters to church, and we would light the Christ Candle.  As I documented last year in my blog I’ll Be Home For Christmas my family always had the misfortune of lighting the Christ Candle, which never went smoothly.  I fought with my sister in front of 1,000 plus people who’d come to church expecting to hear how Christ came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to men.  The next year they expected something else, and I did not fail them.   I dropped a lit match on the carpet floor.  Fortunately the church didn’t burn down.

I did not have to light the Christ Candle for Christmas Eve in Xela.  I was a spectator, surrounded by friends and Guatemalan families who had come to celebrate Christ’s birth.  As much as I missed being with my family last year I enjoyed witnessing how the Latin culture celebrates Christmas.  My favorite part of the service at Saint Mark’s was the Posada.  A handful of kids marched into the church dressed as Guatemalan Marias and Joses with sumbreros and mustaches followed by a very Guatemalan baby Jesus Cristo.

Shortly after the service, after I had sung my share of Spanish Christmas Carols I headed back to my house with Skyy, his mom Susan, Jen (co-worker), Blake and Amy (co-workers), Blake’s family, and Holland (another co-worker) and his boys to set off fireworks.  Ask anyone in Guatemala and they will tell you setting off fireworks is the real reason for the season.  I may have spent upwards of twenty dollars on fireworks, which didn’t even match what Skyy (one of my student’s whose house I lived at) spent.  Us guys took the next couple of hours detonating our ammunition.  At midnight Xela sounded as if it were under attack, the entire city lit up like the large Christ Candle.

Christmas Eve has aways been family time for me, quiet and relaxing (after the Christmas Eve service at least).  This year I plan on watching “How Earnest Saved Christmas” with my two sisters.  I look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and being with my family.  But I will always remember how much fun I had lighting off fireworks and celebrating my savior’s birth with people my Guatemalan family.

Christmas is not about what you do, what you give or what you get, but in the end it is about enjoying the birth of Christ with those who are around you.  No matter where you are.  Last year on Christmas day Donna and Laurel McMarlin (Laurel was one of my co-workers) welcomed me into their family and shared their Christmas with me.  They helped make what could have been a lonely day, a day full of love and celebration, which made for a perfect Christmas.

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The Gift Of Christmas Presence

I don’t know about you, but the Christmas shopping season is driving me nuts.

Every year, “Black Friday” sales begin earlier and earlier. Back in the day, stores began opening at 8am. Then 7am. Then 5am. Last week, “Black Friday” sales began Thursday night. On Thanksgiving.

American consumerism has taken Thanksgiving hostage!

Not to be outdone by local retailers, the “Cyber Monday” folks have been pummeling us with emails. And this year, the faint whimperings of “Small Business Saturday” have been heard.

I feel like Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. Fired over sagging ratings, the aging news anchor, while giving his final newscast, looks into the TV camera and yells, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t resist reinforcing my fellow blogger (and co-pastor) Eugene Scott’s excellent post about rampant consumerism. There must be a better way—and there is.

The Difference Between Presents And Presence

While lamenting the rampant consumerism in an Advent planning meeting recently, our youth director mentioned a group of churches in the northwest that produced a series of resources entitled “The Advent Conspiracy.” Their message is simple:

  • Worship Fully—remember that the focus of the Christmas season is Jesus.
  • Spend Less—spending more money on stuff at Christmas doesn’t make it more meaningful.
  • Give More—because the message about Christmas is about God’s gift to us, it becomes more meaningful when we give to others.
  • Love All—we can join Jesus in his gift to the world by loving the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick.

(The video at the beginning of this post provides a great overview of The Advent Conspiracy.)

Their message is this: Rather than stress over purchasing the perfect present, look for ways that you can give better presence. To God. To each other.

Jesus Is God’s Presence

Here’s how the prophet Isaiah foretold the day of the coming messiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 emphasis added).

Then, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was identified as this “Immanuel” (see Matthew 1:23).

And what does “Immanuel” mean? God with us. Jesus wasn’t just God’s present to us, he was God’s presence with us.

The best gift God could give humanity wasn’t a cool iPad 2 or even peace on earth. The best gift he could give was himself. Presence. And he did—he gave us Jesus, “God with us.”

You Can Generously Give Presence Too!

A woman in our church designed a handout for our congregation that offers ideas for giving away our presence. Some of her ideas include:

  • Have a family game night.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood.
  • See Christmas lights together.
  • Resurrect an old family recipe and make it together.
  • Take a vacation from TV.
  • Pray together.
  • Talk about what it means to be present rather than only give presents.

When we focus on spending money, giving the perfect gift, and getting what we wanted for Christmas, it becomes so me-centered. It’s funny—I can remember only four or five Christmas presents I’ve received over my 47 years of life. Relationships, however, have impacted me so much more than any gadget or toy.

This Advent season, I ask you to join me in following in Jesus’ footsteps. Let’s make giving better presence a higher priority than giving better presents this holiday season.

So I’m curious. Do you have any ideas for giving presence? Please jump into the conversation and let us know!

If you don’t have plans for celebrating the birth of Jesus during this Advent season and you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church as we explore The Gift Of Christmas Presence.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. While he’d still like an iPad 2 for Christmas, he realizes it won’t fill the hole in his heart.

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