“Has Anyone Asked Jesus What He Wants for His Birthday?” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 20, 2020

From Richard Rohr:  “The common Christian understanding that Jesus came to save us by a cosmic evacuation plan is really very individualistic, petty, and even egocentric. It demands no solidarity with anything except oneself. We whittled the great Good News down into what Jesus could do for us personally and privately, rather than celebrating God’s invitation to participate in God’s universal creative work.”  

Grace is available to all.  Grace, the unmerited favor of God to all humanity, is always present, always available, always abundant, if we but see it.   This season, called Advent, meaning arrival or coming, is not part of our Quaker understanding since we believe that the long-awaited Jesus is already in our midst.  “Christ is born” not “Christ was born”.

But we welcome it and practice our waiting a little more intentionally.  In this season, say from December 6, the feast of Saint Nicholas to January 6, the feast of the Kings, or Mages, the world joins us in waiting for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us, to dwell within us–Emmanu-el, the in-dwelling God.  Living together – in the things that endure.

This time of darkness deepens and the natural world stills; We celebrate the Festival of Lights of the Jews, the Solstice of the Pagans, the Saturnalia of the Romans, the lighted evergreens  and Yule of the Druids, and call it Christ mas—Christ’s Mass, which is the celebration of his birth, death and resurrection in the rites of the Catholic Church, enacted daily in every Mass.

But, if it is Jesus we are celebrating, has anyone asked him what he wants for his birthday?

The origin stories of the birth of Jesus differ, as accounts written down after being told for generations would.  Matthew tells us what we as observant Jews need to know to fulfill the Messianic prophecies; Luke tells us of the non-Jewish world about the Christos, the anointed one, through the eyes of his mother; Mark cuts right to the chase and tells us about the priest, teacher and healer who calls us to action. 

It might be said that Matthew tells us what we need to know, Mark tells us what we need to do, Luke tells us who we need to know and John, often called the Quaker evangelist, tells us who we need to be.  Living together in love.

And yet, none of this is necessary.  We don’t need to know the origin story of Christianity to be filled with grace.  Christmas happens, in the veins of the needle user and the dealer, whether it is recognized or not.  Grace is available to all.

Whether our drug is consumption or caffeine, Christmas happens.  Whether our shopping is done, our presents mailed, our bills paid, our rent overdue, our stomachs empty or full, Christmas happens.  Whether the baby is conceived before the couple is married, after the ruling power orders his death, the family flees to safety in another land or the angels stop speaking to us in dreams, Christ’s birth, Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection happen, because grace is available to all.

Have we asked, “What does Jesus want from me for his birth day?”

So, whether this Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, or Messenger, or Metaphor to you; whether you walk with Jesus in your daily life or honor him as a prophet or use his name as a cuss word, remember, Christmas happens.  And not just on December 25th.  Grace is available to all.  Just ask his mother.

“My soul”, she sang, “magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in the One who has saved me… He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich– he has turned empty, away….

Yet, grace is still available to all.  The Light returns.