Summary: What do you give Jesus on his birthday? Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and Jesus made it clear that we give to him by giving to others--feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned.
I don’t know about you all, but when I was a little girl, I always looked forward to the day when the Sears and JCPenney Christmas catalogues came in the mail. The first moment I had some free time, I would get out a pen and some paper, I would turn to the toy section, and I would flip page by page making a list of the toys I wanted that year. I would do the same thing on my birthday. Of course, there was never a big catalogue to go through around my birthday, but I would make my list anyway. Of course, we all know it’s a lot easier to make a list of what we want than it is to try and figure out what to get for someone else.
I remember when I was about 8 or 9, I was trying to figure out what to give my sister for Christmas, I thought it would help if I knew what I had given her the year before, but I couldn’t remember. So I just went and asked. My sister’s response? “I don’t remember, but I probably didn’t like it.” Do you struggle to come up with the perfect gift each Christmas for the special people in your life? It can be tough, but here’s an even more important question: what do you give Jesus on his birthday? This question brings us back to the meaning of Christmas, and it forces us to keep the focus on what Christmas is really all about. Because Christmas is not our birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday!
So, how do we change the overwhelming focus of Christmas from materialistic self-indulgence to giving Jesus what he desires on his birthday? How can we make it less about us and more about Jesus? What can we possibly give to the Lord of the universe? I mean, if it’s hard to figure out what to get for our own family, how could we possibly figure out what to give the Messiah? Fortunately, though, we don’t have to figure it out. It turns out Jesus liked to make wish lists to, and he did just that as recorded by Matthew in our gospel reading for this morning: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, they were absolutely befuddled. For two years they had been with Jesus virtually 24/7. They had followed him everywhere he went, they had listened to him teach, and watched him heal people. But they had never seen Jesus in any such situations. He might’ve had sore feet, or been a little dusty, or tired, but Jesus was never hungry, or sick, or naked, and at this point, he had certainly not been imprisoned yet. What Jesus was saying made absolutely no sense to the disciples.
But then Jesus clarified what he meant: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” In other words, we can’t separate our relationship with God from our responsibility for other people. And what we do or don’t do for other people; we do it or don’t do it for Jesus. Really, it couldn’t be more clear. This is what Jesus wants from us on his birthday, and everyday, that we would love and serve other people in the same way that he loves and serves us.
In first John we are told that evidence of our salvation involves helping other people with their physical needs. “We know that we have passed from death to life,” the letter says, “because we love one another. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” And, “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or a sister in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us love…with actions and in truth.” We serve God when we serve others. Simple as that. We give to Jesus when we sacrifice of our time, talents, and resources to meet others’ needs in his name. The church is the body of Christ, and that’s why Jesus has asked these things of all of his disciples!
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, he wanted his followers to know that they were responsible for feeding the hungry in their midst. Think about the famous feeding of the five thousand. It had been a long day, and the disciples were ready to send the crowds away to find food. But Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” Pretty amazing. God creates miracles through the resources that you and I hold in our hands; David’s five smooth stones, Moses’ staff, the widow’s oil, six jars of water at a wedding reception, another widow’s two small coins, and a boy’s lunch of five pieces of bread and two small sardines! These are the resources that miracles are made of! It’s not really that Jesus’ asks a lot of us on his birthday, but that we simply be willing to offer to his service what we do have.