Greetings in these days of Advent Preparation and Christmas Joy!
As the season of advent comes to an end, our hearts and minds are appropriately fixed on Jesus! The advent calendar is filling up. The count-down to Christmas is in its last stage. I hope most of us have completed our shopping, sent out the Christmas cards, trimmed the tree and egged the nog. Soon many of us will bundle up against the winter cold, trundle off to church, sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” light candles and celebrate the birthday of Jesus.
In some churches, there is even a cake decorated with the words “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” complete with candles to honor the birth of our Savior. It is a curious custom that for a birthday, we place lit candles on the cake, offer it to the one whose birthday it is, sing a song, and then the candles are blown out. But not before the one who is being celebrated makes a wish. I am told that the custom of making a wish and blowing out the candles originated long ago. One thought is that candles became popular in Germany where a large candle in the center of the cake came to symbolize the light of life. As candles were blown out, the wisp of smoke rising from the extinguished candles was thought to carry wishes and prayers to God. Hence, the custom of blowing out candles after first making a wish.
So I began wondering to myself: If Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, and if we had a cake to celebrate, and if Jesus came to celebrate with us, and we invited him to blow out the candles on the cake, for what would Jesus wish?
If you would forgive my musings, I think Jesus would wish that we, along with the rest of the world, would pause for quiet in the midst of the busy rush to reflect on our lives and our faith.
Jesus would want us to look around us and see how blessed we are. Family and friends surround us in love giving us deeply meaningful moments of joy. Material gifts remind us of the privilege of giving and of gracious receiving. Because of God’s gift of life, spiritual blessings are ours in abundance. Among them are the wonder and beauty of the created world, the presence of God in our lives, and the power and privilege of prayer. And the treasure of our faith, salvation, is already ours, a gift from Jesus. I believe Jesus would wish for us moments to breathe deeply and appreciate all our blessings
But then Jesus would want us to look outside of our circle of family and friends that gather at Christmas, and outside of the walls of the churches where we worship him. And Jesus would wish that we might see the want and the need of so many others. The poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the distressed and the unemployed; those in war-torn places, the prisoner, the bereaved. This Christmas, amid the ending of one war, Jesus would wish that we would open our eyes and hearts to those returning from combat. And Jesus would want us to offer to them some of the gifts of the season. More than the material trappings of our commercialized Christmas celebrations, our Christ-child would want us to give the gifts of love and peace to others this Christmas.
So there are two questions I want to offer you. This Christmas, ask yourself these two questions:
What are the gifts that I have already received from God through my faith in Jesus Christ? And
With whom does Jesus want me to share my gifts as I celebrate his birthday?
And as you ask yourself these questions and find prayerful answers to them, know that I am holding you in prayer that this Christmas will be a profoundly moving one, inspiring you to accept and to give the gift of Jesus through your words, your deeds, your life, your love, and your faith!
A most joyful, peaceful, profound Christmas to you!
Robert Hoshibata is Bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and presides over the Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Hoshibata presided over the Oregon-Idaho Conference from 2004-2012 and his blog postings are here for reference.
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