But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."
My father was born on Christmas Day 85 years ago. I'm sure his coming into the world brought great joy to his mom and dad, aunts and uncles, siblings and grandparents. What birth of a healthy child doesn't?
But, on Christmas Day? When everyone is receiving presents anyway? When the celebratory birth of Jesus overshadows the day?
How do parents make this day extra-special each year for the birthday child?
Dad's parents tried. They really did! Always giving little Billy that special gift above and beyond what brother, Phil, and sister, Mary Jane, enjoyed beneath the Christmas tree.
One story Dad told us when we were growing up was the Christmas/birthday when he, and only he, got a brand new bicycle. Oh, how the paint gleamed and the chrome shone! It was hard for Phil and Mary Jane not to feel a wee bit jealous. As for Billy, he was thrilled and couldn't wait to take it for a spin!
Bundled up against the cold, Billy mounts his treasured bike at the top of their steep driveway and hurtles down without a moment's hesitation. Wind whips his face. Frost reddens his cheeks. It's full and exhilarating speed ahead!
Until, the unthinkable happens.
Billy's bike tires hit a slick of black ice. He loses control. The front fender careens into the curb.
Feeling as bent and forsaken as his now damaged bicycle, Billy limps home with tears in his eyes and an ache in his heart. Phil and Mary Jane are so livid about their brother's carelessness, they refuse to speak to him for the rest of Christmas Day. It was a memorable Christmas, to be sure, but not because it was a joyful one.
In all the years I can recall since childhood, our family has always given my Dad those extra-special gifts at Christmas. We've faithfully held a party in his honor on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and have continually celebrated his privilege of sharing in the Lord's birthday.
If Dad has ever been let down on any of these Christmas birthdays, he's never let on. Not once have I know my father to be discontented with what he has or who he is. And, through his example, I have learned so much about what it means to truly live a fulfilling life.
And, now that Dad is in the last stages of Alzheimer's, this may be the last Christmas/birthday card I choose for him and the last special gift I buy. I stand before the reams of cards which tout the exemplary qualities of fathers and thankfulness for their gifts of wisdom and love. Can he read this? Will he understand? Does he somehow remember in his heart and soul all the cards with similar sentiments sent on birthday past?
My tears flow. My heart breaks.
This is the hardest birthday. The hardest Christmas.
But, in the harsh reality of now lies the everlasting hope.
Hope, born in a lowly, smelly, miserable manger.
Hope, which understands the lowliest, smelliest, and miserable parts of our lives.
Hope which conquers all our fears, our doubts, our sins because it invites us to look beyond the present circumstance to see the everlasting promise.
The promise Jesus made to be with us always. Not just on His birthday.
With us always!
Happy Birthday, Daddy! Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Do you know someone who shares a birthday with Jesus? Will you send them an exceptional gift or greeting today?
Will you pray with me?
Loving Father, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Your Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus, let us not forget those whose birthdays may be overshadowed by all the activities this holiday brings. May we make their birthdays ones to remember and cherish; ones that remind them how much they are loved as Your precious children. Amen.