Here’s a story I’ve heard and read a few times through the years. Some readers of this blog may stand aghast at the background represented in the writer, having no idea that such a fundamentalist “take” on Christmas exists. My own background in this regard is mixed—not growing up with very strong pro- or con-Christmas ideas, I can take or leave most aspects of the season, from “Jesus’ birthday” celebrations to Santa Claus. The principle I tend to stand by is that since there’s no specification in the scriptures about the month or date of Jesus’ birth, it’s up to the individual whether it is celebrated or not. One “side” in these types of questions should not look down on the other (see Romans 14).
That said, I do find the story below sadly expressive of true situations. I fear that I, on occasion, made such an issue out of non-issues in discussion with young friends that they never would have been able to see Jesus in or through me. In every situation in which that was the case, may they forget. And may I change, so that those mistakes aren’t made again.
Donny was the best friend a nine-year-old could have. We did everything together. We road bikes together, we ate King Vitamin Cereal together. We played war together and spent the night at each other’s house every weekend.
We were “blood brothers.” We hated girls and we stuck up for each other when someone called me fat or him four-eyes. We even had a secret handshake—a true friendship.
One December afternoon as we played in a snowbank, Donny had a question. We had been talking about Christmas, the number one December topic for nine-year-olds, when he said something like,” Mark, you go to church and stuff, and I was just wonderin’ … is Christmas really Jesus’ birthday.”
I confess now that I rarely, if ever, knew the answers to any of Don’s questions. Usually I would just act like I knew and he would believe me, but this time it was different. This time I actually knew the answer. This was my chance to evangelize, to tell Donny that Jesus was more than just a prefix for various swearwords.
“No, no, no!” I blurted out, scorning Don for his blatant ignorance. “It’s not his birthday, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. No one knows when his birthday is!”
Don sat there for a while almost embarrassed that he had even asked. He knew better than to argue theological issues with a guy who went to church on Wednesday nights, but under his breath he mumbled, “If nobody knew when my birthday was, I wouldn’t mind if they just picked a day.”
I didn’t think about it then, or for years to come, but eventually I realized the wisdom in what Donny mumbled that day in the snowbank. Donny, who had never been to church a day in his life, saw a smiling Jesus who said, “Go ahead, just pick a day,” and I saw and angry Jesus screaming, “No, it’s not my birthday!”
Do we really think he cringes like the Grinch when we sing about mangers? When he hears songs about Bethlehem and wise man, does he pull out his hair and yell, “It never says three! It never says three!”? I doubt it.
Sixteen years later I wonder if Don remembers what I told him. I hope not, because he now has a four-year-old who might someday ask him the same question.
What a shame if that’s all he remembers about his friend who went to church three times a week.
– Mark Moore
For the record, this season and most other Decembers, I’m participating in, and even planning, a fair number of celebrations of Jesus’ birth. This is not necessary, but I choose to do it, and I choose to see a “smiling Jesus” who isn’t even slightly bothered by the human volition that results in this kind of honoring.