12 Dec 2017
Apparently Jesus was actually born at the end of September. It’s all to do with the time of year sheep are out on the hills around Bethlehem and when Herod would have done his census. So Jesus would have been the oldest in his year, if he had gone to a British primary school. Although his early years aren’t covered by the Gospel narratives, theologians are generally agreed that he wasn’t actually British, white or middle class. Which comes as a surprise to many.
It’s an odd idea that Jesus had a birthday. Obviously, we’re all used to him being born. We do that every year. We put up street lights, Christmas trees and mistletoe to remember his birth. But somehow it’s not a birthday party, it’s a Birth party. Presumably, each time his birthday came round, they didn’t dust off the mini version of his birth scene, complete with wooden models of shepherds, wise men and the donkey. Although I’m guessing Mary didn’t get tired of telling him the story of how she discovered she was pregnant. It was a world before ultra-sound scans and pregnancy tests, but there was never a time when it was normal for an angel to announce that you were pregnant. Do you think Jesus thought everyone had an angel-pregnancy-announcement? Was there a day he came home and said, “Hey Mum, Daryl’s Mum is pregnant again, but apparently she’s had no angel tell her. Do you think she really is? Or does he sometimes come later?”
Jesus did have other birthdays.
He had a first birthday. In Egypt. As a refugee.
He had a 5th birthday. Maybe his little cousin, John, came to the party. He called him his cousin, because no one has ever understood the difference between second cousin and cousin-once-removed. Did Jesus have to invite absolutely everyone in his class to his party, because it was the ‘right thing’ to do? Do you think he had themed parties, ‘My first carpentry party’ or ‘an afternoon of donkey-based fun’ or ‘Romans in togas.’ So many questions. So little archeologically relevant evidence.
On his 13th birthday, his mum might have talked late into the night about that moment, months earlier, when she realised that she had lost him in Jerusalem. “Teenagers! You never know where they are.” Each time she tells the story, Jesus sees the panic Mary felt.
Which birthday do you think it was when he had his first glass of wine? Which one when his Dad gave him his own saw and hammer?
Was his 21st birthday awkward for not having a wife there? Was he the only single man there? He might have been perfect, but he still must have resorted to the shoulder shrug and the, “I guess, I just haven’t found the right one yet?”
His 33rd birthday must have been bittersweet, if historians have it right that he never saw his 34th birthday. Celebrating with his closest friends. Seeing the privilege they felt being at the party of the most talked about man in Judea. Hearing their memories of another year spent evading the authorities. They felt invincible. They thought they’d grow old together. He knew he wouldn’t. He knew that very few of them would be allowed to grow old. There were speeches. And a toast to his good health. It was hard to clink his goblet to that toast.
But there’s no doubt, he did love a party. His guest list was sometimes questioned, but the meals were always memorable. And he encouraged his followers to look forward to the eternal party in heaven. When they would drink wine together again. A party that literally never ends is a slightly baffling concept. Will Jesus always be in the kitchen having deep conversations, or will he sometimes hit the dancefloor?
There must be so much he loves about the huge party we have each year to remember his birthday. There are so many very blessed moments of laughter together, of love shared, of meals enjoyed and gifts freely given. His birthday is the biggest party we have in the year. It would be strange if we celebrated the birthday boy without remembering that he did grow up. We are celebrating a toddler, a boy, a teenager and a man. His birth was just the start. That’s always the case with a birthday. We’re remembering the person, not just the newborn, wrinkly screamer.
This Christmas, celebrate the birth. And remember his life. Celebrate Jesus Christ. Thank him for the party. Every part of it.