December 25, 2013
Woodmont Baptist Church
I have been thinking this week about one of our senior adult ladies who passed away about a year and half ago. Her name was Jenelle Flynt. Most of you in the room will remember her well. She was kind and gracious. She carried herself with an air of Southern refinement and charm. She had that beautiful silver hair and sported those Harry Potter glasses long before anyone ever heard of Harry Potter. She was my friend and I still miss her, as do many of you.
I will never forget the occasion of her 80th birthday. She popped in my office on that morning and announced, “Dr. Roebuck, today is my 80th birthday and I want you to celebrate with me.” I got up from around my desk and gave her a big hug and asked, “And how shall we celebrate?” She reached in her purse and pulled out an envelope. It had my name written on the outside and she handed it to me with a lilt of excitement in her voice and said, “Open it!” So I did. Inside I discovered 80 one-dollar bills. 80 bucks. “What’s this money for?” I asked. And she said, “It’s for you to celebrate my birthday. I want you to go out and buy yourself a present or take Linda out to eat. I just want you to enjoy my birthday by doing something fun.” As soon as I realized that she was giving me a gift even though it was her birthday, I said, “And may you live to be 100!”
I protested briefly. I tried to explain to her that what she was doing was counter intuitive. People give you things for your birthday, not the other way around. But she insisted that I keep the cash and enjoy “her” day. I won’t soon forget… I won’t forget her gift, her life, or her faith lesson. Her action has actually caused me to think differently about my own birthday and how it is spent. I have begun thinking about the ways in which I can give myself away on my birthday, rather than being the recipient of too many gifts. Last year I spent my birthday working at a Habitat for Humanity build. Volunteered all day, pouring out my energy to help someone else and it was a good day. I kind of like the idea of giving a gift to someone to celebrate your own birthday. Thanks, Jenelle for your inspiration.
Jenelle Flynt was not the first person to give away a gift on her birthday. Isn’t the idea as old as Christmas itself? When Christ was born, gifts were exchanged. Yes, there were the three gifts presented by the Magi… gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They brought those gifts and laid them at the feet of Jesus. But there was an even greater offering of a gift to celebrate the birth of the Savior. It is not a gift given to Jesus, but rather, His gift to us. He gave us a gift to celebrate His birthday. Counter intuitive, right? We should be bringing our gifts to Him, but He gives His gift to us and says, “I want you to celebrate with Me!”
The writer of the book of Hebrews goes to great lengths to help us understand the gift. The writer devotes a lot of time in describing the role of Christ as our “perfect Great High Priest.” Long about chapter 9, the writer describes the way things with God used to be. In the Tabernacle, there were two rooms. The first had a lampstand and a table and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place. And then there was a curtain or veil, and behind the curtain there was a second room called the Holy of Holies. In that room there was a golden incense altar and that golden box called the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron. And once a year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would leave the front room and pass through the curtain and there offer a sacrifice for his own sins and for the sins of the people. That went on for hundreds of years. The people were separated from the presence of Holy God by the thick curtain, but mostly by the separation that sin causes.
But then Christ came and everything changed. He became, as the writer of Hebrews states, “The Perfect Great High Priest,” because He offered a perfect sacrifice for our sins. He writes, “For Christ did not enter into a holy place made by human hands… He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.” And rather than offer a sacrifice over and over again, the offering of His own life became a “permanent and lasting sacrifice.” The curtain of sin that separates us from Holy God has been forever torn and we boldly come into the presence of God, forgiven and loved.
Do you understand the birthday gift? Christ came to offer us a gift. He came to offer us forgiveness. He came to offer us eternal life. That’s the gift He makes to us on His birthday. And that is what we celebrate.
This week I was introduced to a wonderful painting of the Nativity through a blog written by Donald Miller. The painting is called, “Nativity,” and it is the work of an artist named Brian Kershisnik. (You need to Google.) The scene is one of a crowd of angels or saints huddled in mass around Christ. Those in front of Him press toward the child, but not to stop and gaze, but rather to move through and beyond toward something else. The crowd only gazes at the mother and child for a moment, they move on to worship God, as though Christ came to point us toward the Father. Everything in the painting is in motion. The worshippers, once past the Mary, Joseph, and the baby, lift their faces toward heaven. Many of their mouths are open as though they are singing with praise to God. The message of the painting is that we move through Christ in order to enter the presence of God.
It’s funny, tomorrow is not your birthday, but you are the one who will get a gift, maybe several gifts… new pair of shoes, the latest electronic gismo, maybe a necktie. You will also get an even greater gift. It’s from the Birthday Boy Himself. It’s called grace. And with that gift, we get to celebrate forever.