Whose Birthday? #19 Reflections

Table of Contents

Inspiring Reflections

Inspiring Reflections

NOTE: If you want lectionary-based Biblical reflections, you have many to choose from. Click Archives at the top of any page and scroll down to Whose Birthday? Year C (Luke) includes: #16, 13, 10, 7, 4, 1.

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The Spirit of St. Nicholas

by W. David Holden

December 6 is the feast day for St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was bishop in the city of Myra in the country we now call Turkey in the Fourth Century. That is about all we know for sure about him. Most of the stories about him are clearly products of the pious imagination. But common themes run through those stories: St. Nicholas fiercely defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He protected children and women from abuse and exploitation. He advocated with kings for prisoners. Not surprisingly, he became one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church, in which I have found my spiritual home.

I learned about the spirit of St. Nicholas, however, long before I became Orthodox. I was reared in a small Methodist church in North Carolina. We thought we had a big crowd when forty people came to church. We had about a dozen youngsters in the church and the adults always made us present some kind of Christmas pageant—the old and very simple kind with only readings and carols.

The thing that I most vividly and fondly remember about those childhood pageants was the gift bags. They were little brown paper bags, and in them were an apple and an orange, a peppermint candy stick, and a couple of walnuts. They were about as simple a Christmas gift as anybody could have, and they were certainly all that a small church of lower-class working people could afford at that time. But they were wonderful gifts, because everybody got one. All of us in the pageant and all the regular churchgoers got one. And everybody else who came to the pageant got one. It did not matter if they were church members who only showed up once a year. It did not matter if they were members of other churches in our community. It did not matter if they belonged to no church at all. Everybody got one of those bags. Bishop Nicholas would have loved them.

On December 6, we ask St. Nicholas to pray for us. We say to him, “Who could hear of thine unlimited condescension and wonder not at thy patience and cheerfulness toward the poor, thy compassion over the sorrowful? For thou didst teach all concerning God.” We ask St. Nicholas to ask the Lord for the grace to share His love with everyone we meet.

David Holden serves as a therapist in Boone, NC.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you suppose American culture focuses on Santa Claus instead of St. Nicholas?
  2. Do you have a new idea of a way to include St. Nicholas into your family’s or congregation’s celebration?
  3. St. Nicholas reached out to the poor. How are you in community with the poor? What can we learn from poor people at home and around the world?


They were about as simple a Christmas gift as anybody could have, and they were certainly all that a small church of lower-class working people could afford at that time. But they were wonderful gifts, because everybody got one.

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My Hand-Made Advent Wreath

by Amy Frykholm

One late November several years ago, my sister-in-law and I hunted in the woods near my house for the makings of an Advent wreath. We came home with an abundance that surprised me: three kinds of evergreen, the tiny red berries and sturdy leaves of kinnikinnick, the faded color of rose hips, the delicate heads of cinquefoil blossoms, the graceful arch of juniper and berry. I had had no idea that our backyard could yield such winter variety.

Last year, I returned to the same spot where my sister-in-law and I had made such a fruitful search. The snow was deep, and most of the bounty I had anticipated was buried. Even by digging, I couldn’t find the kinnikinnick; the blossoms and rosehips were crushed by the weight of the snow. In a driving wind, I collected reliable evergreens and their cones, but little else.

During the pre-Christmas rush, our culture seems to ask us to feel nostalgia or anticipation. We try to recreate the past or we imagine that a “true Christmas feeling” is just around the corner. In the prophets, we hear a different call. Though they pointed people to the future, they first called them to honesty about the present. We carry their stark attention during Advent when we try to stay awake in the here and now. The Advent wreath I produced last year was sparser, but as I wove it, I meditated on how even this simple act was teaching me both acceptance and attention. In the present, we can find both unexpected fullness and unwelcome emptiness. Both prepare us for the birth of the holy into our very midst.

Amy Frykholm runs a community center called Bastante – start fresh, find direction, move forward – in Leadville, CO. Contact her at BastanteLeadville@yahoo.com or (719) 486-1935.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you anticipate the “Christmas spirit” each year? Where do you search for the “Christmas spirit”?
  2. Was there ever a time or situation when the spirit never came? What did you do?
  3. What natural resources do you have to make your own Advent wreath?
  4. Could you develop a family tradition of making, discussing and using the wreath for Advent devotions?


The Advent wreath I produced last year was sparser, but as I wove it, I meditated on how even this simple act was teaching me both acceptance and attention.

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I Am a Recovering Christmas Hater.

by Jessica Stevens

[The first three paragraphs below do not appear in the booklet.]

As a kid Christmas was full of magic and wonder. I was the first one to put presents under the tree, wind chimes from art class for Mom, bracelets made of dental floss and beads for my sister. We had traditions such as going to the firehouse my dad volunteered at to see Santa and get bags of peanuts and candy. I got to wear sparkly wings in the Christmas pageant. My brother was usually a shepherd or wise-guy (as he liked to call it) and on one occasion my sister was quite convincing as baby Jesus. On Christmas Eve all of Mom's brothers and sisters and their families would come over to our house. Grandpa brought his horses and after dinner we would go for a hayride around our little Nevada desert town and thoroughly maim every Christmas carol.

As I got older the magic began to wear off. We moved to a state where we had no extended family. We didn't know what to do without family and traditions to fall back on. In our hearts nothing could replace those large family Christmases. We ran into times when money was tight and buying presents became a burden. Receiving presents became a disappointment. Mom went into crisis over how to make Christmas meaningful- do we have a tree or a manger? Buy presents or make them?

It was in university that I finally decided I hated Christmas. My life operated according to the course syllabi and academic calendar. I also worked a part time job. All time, money and energy went to making it through school. In December finals had to be written, dorm room cleaned out, and next semester paid for.  I didn't have the time or energy to be cheerful or thoughtful in my celebration. Of course I wanted Christmas to mean something but only when I was ready for it. Christmas interrupted my life, cramped my style or as I liked tell people, "It's just not where I'm at in my life."

It was my final and busiest year of university. Emotionally, I was not ready for Christmas. The coffee shop where I worked had exploded way too early with every kitschy Christmas decoration known to human kind and the most saccharine of holiday carols. It grated on every nerve for two months. Every eggnog latte was prepared with a side of disdain. While others had a sense of joy and expectation I had a sense of impending doom. On the 24th of December I worked a morning shift and was near tears as the time for me to go home approached. I felt like everything but celebrating.  On the way out a friend told me I could go to her house if I just couldn’t deal. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. 

Mom made dinner. We went to a church service and went home. We each opened one present and went to bed. When I woke up on Christmas day, a dog with antlers was in my face. He was happy because he was awake. Oh, how I envied him.

Puffy eyed I shuffled out to the living room where my youngest brother had already raided his stocking and was bouncing off the walls in anticipation of the sweet booty yet to be plundered. I played it cool, but not for long. Two things stand out from that day. Two things that turned me from my Christmas hating ways. One, the present Mom gave me. She framed her very first painting of a human subject and placed it under the tree for me. I love this painting. From the first day I saw it I knew my mom had done something great. I couldn’t believe she wanted me to have it. I would never even dream to ask for it. It cost her little but was priceless. She gave me a part of herself. This bit of grace shown to a dissatisfied punk kid was overwhelming. I’ve cried on Christmas before but never out of gratitude.

The second thing was something my dad arranged. Our Christmas dinner would not be eaten at home. Dad has a good friend that is also a member of the Lummi Nation (a tribe in Washington state). This friend needed help getting Christmas meals to the elderly and shut-in on the reservation. Dad offered his family. We became solemn as we dumped green beans into large pans, sliced pumpkin pie and stuffed roasted turkeys into insulated bags. I looked around at the residents at the assisted living facility.  Some residents had a few family members to eat with but most quietly came down from their rooms. Occasionally some people from the community that had nowhere else to go joined us. Scattered around the room and without much eye contact they ate their holiday meal.  I kept walking by the food baskets waiting to go to the people that couldn’t make it out of their homes and tried to imagine how they would be received. 

That year I found Christ in the grace of my mother’s gift. I found the family Christmas I thought was left behind in the desert. We finally made our own tradition. Our family was again extended at Christmas and for a little while we became family to others. It was magic.

(from Mustard Seed Associates’, November, 2005, newsletter, Seattle, WA)

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Strangers Invited in for Christmas

by Millard Fuller

“I was a stranger and you invited me in…” Matthew 25

Several years ago at the Christmas season, my dear friend, Jacob Battle called me on the phone. His tone was frantic, “Millard, I was coming back to Americus from Albany and I saw a man and woman and three small children standing on the side of the road. I stopped and talked to them. They said they were homeless and had no place to stay. I took them to a nearby motel and arranged for their lodging but I can’t afford to keep them there. What can you do to help?”

The local Habitat for Humanity affiliate had recently acquired an old house. We had started to fix it up, but the work was not complete. Christmas day was only a week away and many people had left for the holidays. All work was at a standstill until after Christmas.

I called a family meeting. Linda and I told our children about the situation and we asked if they would like to work on that old house to make it livable for the homeless family so they would have a place for Christmas. Everyone enthusiastically agreed.

We went to work. Our two youngest daughters, Faith and Georgia, were especially excited. They scraped off old paint from the walls, went to the store with Linda to get paint and other supplies and worked tirelessly all week long. Some days the work continued well into the night. Some friends also joined in to help out.

Finally, it was Christmas Eve. Rugs were put down. Lamps were bought and put on side tables. Other furniture was purchased and moved in. A Christmas tree was donated by a family friend and set in place in the living room. Lights were strung on the tree and presents for the children bought and lovingly placed under the tree.

The family was brought in. You could see the joy on the little faces of the children. And, mom and dad were so happy, too. Christmas was so meaningful that year, not only for that family but for our family, too.

To this day, we remember that as one of our best Christmases ever.

Millard Fuller is the Founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Founder and President of The Fuller Center for Housing. He also serves on Alternatives’ Honorary Board of Directors.

For a Brief Biography of Millard Fuller, including his many awards, honorary degrees and the books he’s authored, visit FullerCenter.org >> About Us >> Millard’s Bio.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would you have done if you were in Millard’s place?
  2. Have you ever had unexpected guests at Christmas? How did your family adapt to the situation?
  3. Have you ever taken strangers into your home? What positive and negative events happened?
  4. What could your children learn from practicing hospitality with people in need or crisis?

QUOTE: To this day, we remember that as one of our best Christmases ever.

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A Christmas Cow


by Walter Wink

Christmas day had always been a problem. We tried taking turns reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but you can guess how that went. We tried singing our way through a Christmas songbook, but it had escaped my notice till then how many really bad singers our family had. Then—inspiration! I remembered receiving a catalogue from The Heifer Project that described the various gifts available: so much for a heifer, so much for goats, sheep, chickens, and so forth.

I raced to the art store and purchased a large sheet of poster board (cardboard would have been better, as things turned out). On the poster board I drew a heifer as best I could, freehand, and then preceded to draw the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the poster board. When I had cut the pieces out, I put four or five pieces in plastic lunch bags for each person there.

Everything was now in readiness. On Christmas morning the family joined in a circle, somewhat mystified. With as much Dickensonian aplomb as I could muster, I passed out the bags of jigsaw pieces. With no picture, just a white sheet of poster board, the family started slowly. (T help them a bit, I had used as my bovine model a Holstein.) In time, however, the tempo increased, and the job was finished in a frenzy.

Then we all sat back, and I began to tell them the story of the heifer, and how the one we had purchased was soon to be traveling to a country far away, not to be slaughtered for food, but to give milk, and not just for one family, but to help feed an entire village.

You can contact Heifer Project International at heifer.org for their gift catalogue.

Walter Wink is a prominent theologian, speaker and author. For more biographical information, go to bottom of this page.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why or why not are you willing to donate to help others through Heifer or our denominational hunger program?

2. Why would it be important to have you and your children donate? What would your children learn from you about the world community?

3. Do you agree with “Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime’? Why or why not?

4. What does “Live simply that others may simply live” mean to you?

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Putting Christ in Christmas

by John Hagberg

A common lament of the season is that Christ has been taken out of Christmas. The commercialization, the overindulgence, the busyness of the world are all refrains in this lament.

For those who wish to sing another song, there is good news in the fact that Christ was never fully in Christmas. Rather than lamenting those who would take Christ out of Christmas, Christians are called to put Christ into this winter holiday.

The fact is that Christmas is a rather late Christian festival. The first celebration of Christmas in Rome was in 353 or 354. The choice of December 25 as the celebration of Christ’s birth was an attempt by the Church to use the images of a pagan midwinter festival, the birthday of the Mithraic Sol Invictus, to celebrate the birth of Christ. As the world began to celebrate the lengthening of the winter days and the return of light in the northern hemisphere, the Christian community celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ as the true Light of the world.

We put Christ in Christmas as we consider the background of Luke’s Christmas story. In the context of the oppressive tax policies of the Roman Empire, the Christ child was born, not in the center of empire and privilege, but in the lowly town of Bethlehem, among the least of the world. His life, as was his birth, was among the least and the lowly, empowering and including them in the blessings of life.

We put Christ into Christmas as we work in soup kitchens and bring food to the hungry, as we give the gift of a warm coat or gloves, as we challenge our law makers to legislate in ways that include all in the blessings of life. With generous hearts that give gifts that cannot be returned, we can decorate our homes, light our streets, gather in joyous celebrations, and sing of the Christ, whose light pushes back the darkness of our world.

John Hagberg serves as pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Sioux City, IA.

Discussion Questions:

1. What family tradition do you have that puts Christ at the center of Christmas?

2. What new SERVICE tradition would you consider in your celebration?

3. How have you simplified your celebrations? Are you willing to share ideas about simplifying with others, including your extended family?

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Christmas Dinner

by Jamie Norwich-McLernan

I look around the dinner table on Christmas Day and think about how surprising life can be. Laughter floats around the room, and our table is filled with good food prepared by many hands. There is an air of excitement and anticipation as we join hands to offer thanks.

Four years previously, Christmas dinner was far simpler. My husband and I grabbed snacks and relaxed after the chaos of multiple Christmas Eve services the night before. This year things are different; our family has unexpectedly grown, and around our table sits our 20-year old Tajik daughter, our 19-year old Korean daughter, and her not-quite-yet-declared 20-something Korean boyfriend. Five people gather around the table to celebrate this Christmas; four are Christian, and one is Muslim. The world has come to us, and opened us to unexpected possibilities.

Outside our doors, newspapers and stores proclaim the “Christmas Wars,” calling for all to “put Christ back into the season!” Inside our home, we recognize the increasingly global nature of our world and the diversity of faith in our own country.

How do we appropriately greet this day in the midst of this complexity? With love. We reach out and practice loving the world one person at a time, a continual challenge of learning to live out God’s love. Those who gather around our table today experience God’s love in different ways—and yet each one of us knows that love to be real. That is the true meaning of Christmas.

Jamie Norwich-McLennan serves as pastor of Trinity Parish United Methodist Church, Rising City, NE.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you feel uncomfortable with Christians and Muslims celebrating Christmas together? If so, why?

2. Do you agree that our world can work for peace when we work together as diverse cultures and religions?

3. In the wake of 9/11 are you struggling personally how to relate with the complexity and diversity of culture and beliefs of our Muslim cousins?

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“Posada sin Fronteras” (Shelter without Borders)

by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell

Few would argue that Christmas has become too commercialized, or that it has deteriorated into a festival of manic consumption, mirroring much of what is most problematic about our economic way of life. The biblical Christmas stories, in contrast, reflect poverty and marginalization. The immigrant couple Joseph and Mary are so poor that they are unable to procure desperately needed lodging. Yet it is their courage in hard circumstances, their sensitivity to dreams and visions, and their willingness to respond to God’s call with courageous choices that facilitates the incarnation of God’s good news in the world.

An opportunity to re-enact this biblical story comes each Advent with the Posada festival celebrated by Mexican communities in the U.S. and Mexico. The Posada is a nightly ritual of remembrance in which people accompany the Holy Family from house to house around the neighborhood, reenacting the search for shelter. It comes alive among immigrant communities, for whom this journey is all too real. Visiting a Posada can be a great way to “feel” the biblical drama, and thus re-orient our perspective from holiday affluenza to God’s solidarity with the poor. In San Diego, CA, local churches sponsor a dramatic’ “Posada sin Fronteras” (Shelter without Borders) at the U.S.-Mexico border, in which participants from both sides reach out their hands to one another, and remember the plight of immigrants like Joseph and Mary facing poverty, peril, and persecution today.

We have been challenged and transformed by our encounters with contemporary immigrants. We urge readers to truly celebrate Christmas by discovering where and whom these too often invisible immigrants are in our own communities, and finding meaningful ways of getting to know them and their stories. Or consider participating in an “exposure” trip to learn more. We recommend the programs run by Borderlinks (www.borderlinks.org) in Tucson, AZ. May the ongoing struggle of the displaced poor for “posada” bring the gospel story alive—and vice versa!

Ched Myers is a prominent theologian, educator, speaker and author. The Rev. Matthew Colwell is a Program Partner of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Oak View, CA.

For more information about Ched Myers and Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, visit bcm-net.org >> Theological Animation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a Hispanic community in your town? Would you be willing to have them come to talk about and demonstrate Las Posadas? Are you willing to participate in their celebration?
  2. How do you imagine your attitude toward immigrants might change or evolve as you experience Las Posadas?
  3. Do you have experience with recent immigrants? Are you a recent immigrant? Share these experiences?

For an introduction and a hymn for Las Posadas, visit SimpleLivingWorks.org >> Archives >> Christmas Packs >> 1990 >> Las Posadas

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Page updated 11 Sept. 2013

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