December 15, 2010

The Bizarre Birthday Party

The birthday boy bounced back and forth from the couch to the window to the couch and back again. Josh knew his friends would be arriving any minute. A big cake sat prominently on the dining room table, along with party hats, noisemakers, a banner, and balloons. In one corner of the living room sat a big pile of neatly wrapped presents, each one labeled with the name of an invited guest.
Whose Party Anyway?
Ding, Dong. The doorbell rang, and the first little boy was welcomed into the home. He carried a big box wrapped in bright-blue paper with a green bow. Josh’s mother directed the boy to place his present on a table off to one side of the kitchen and go play in the living room. The bell rang again, and one by one children began to arrive. Each child came in with a gift wrapped in colorful wrapping paper that was deposited with the growing pile of presents.
2010 1540 page14Everything was going as planned when the father of one of the guests marched over to the cake and swiped his finger over frosting where Josh’s mother had written “Happy Birthday Josh.” He then took the frosting tube and wrote his son’s name instead. The other guests and their parents acted as if this were perfectly normal behavior.
When everyone had arrived and the children began playing together, the party games got mixed up, too. All the invited guests had a wonderful time playing together, but no one paid any attention to the birthday boy who had invited them. Josh kept trying to join in the game of duck, duck, goose, but they kept pushing him out of the circle.
After the games came cake and ice cream; and when there was nothing left but crumbs, the kids excitedly turned their attention to the pile of presents on the table. Now it finally seemed as if Josh would be able to enjoy his own birthday party. But as absurd as it may sound, when Josh went to choose the first gift from the pile, he couldn’t find a single one with his name on it. The guests had all bought presents for each other.
Instead of complaining, Josh began handing out gifts to the children whose names were on them.
Soon the children were all eagerly opening the gifts they had brought for each other. There were several little plastic cars, some bouncy balls, yo-yos, dolls, a puzzle, candy, and other assorted items you might find at the local dollar store.
Gifts for the Guests
After the children opened their presents from each other, Josh excitedly led them over to the other pile of gifts still sitting in the corner of the living room. “These,” he explained, “are the gifts I have for you. I’m glad you came to my party, and I hope you like them.”
These were no cheap, dollar store gifts. Josh had chosen the gifts carefully and spent every last cent he had saved up in his piggy bank. With expectant eyes he took each of his guests’ gifts and handed it to them personally, hoping they would be happy with what he had chosen for them.
As the first little girl pulled off the wrapping paper, the corners of Josh’s mouth turned up in anticipation. But his expectant heart sank when she wrinkled her nose in disgust and dropped the gift on the floor. The next little boy let out a loud sigh as he saw what was inside his package. With each gift he handed out, Josh had the same look of anticipation, hoping the children would appreciate the gifts he had purchased. One by one the children opened their presents with similar reactions of disappointment, apathy, or disgust.
One girl simply refused to open her gift. Another boy was so busy playing with his plastic yo-yo that he did not notice Josh trying to give him a gift. No one even said a polite “Thank you.”
Finally the last little girl peeled back the paper that covered her gift and peeked underneath it with a quizzical look on her face. There were no flashing lights, beeps, or buttons. She recognized the object as something her parents and some of her friends owned. It seemed expensive, but it was so unfamiliar to her.
At first she was not interested, but then she looked up and saw the expression on Josh’s face. He looked hopeful but troubled by her lack of excitement. She looked back down at the expensive gift in her hands, and it struck her that someone had paid a lot for that gift. As she looked back up and saw the hopeful earnestness with which Josh was looking at her, a flash of recognition crossed her face. She realized that Josh had paid for it with his own money, and that he had done it just for her.

What Do You Think?

1. Why is it so easy to get caught up in the commercialism that often surrounds the celebration of Christ's birth?

2. What traditions have you and your family followed to help you observe the holidays in a spirit of worship and service? List at least three.

What tips can you share for taking the true spirit of the holidays well into the new year?

Imagine Jesus planning His own birthday party. Whom would He invite? What elements would be present (food, music, gifts)? What would be absent?

She jumped up with a squeal and ran over to hug Josh. “Thank you, Josh! Thank you so much!” she cried.

The other children peered curiously at the gushing girl. They saw plainly that the gift she held was the same thing they had all received. They began to ridicule her excitement.
But in spite of the apathy of the children around her, Kristiana gratefully held the gift closely.
The Greatest Gift Giver
The most exciting part of Jesus’ birthday party is the gift He’s given us. He emptied Himself, paid everything He had, even though He knew that some would not fully appreciate His gift, others would choose to reject it altogether, and some would be so distracted that they would not even notice it.
The more time we spend dwelling on the selflessness that Jesus showed in paying for our gift, the more we’ll appreciate it, and the more we’ll be motivated to serve Him and others selflessly.
Most gifts are lost, broken, or forgotten by next Christmas. But the gift of a relationship with Jesus becomes more valuable with use. Spend time every day thinking about the amazing gift Jesus has given us. Consider His unconditional love demonstrated by His sacrifice on the cross.
Make the most of Jesus’ priceless gift. His next birthday party will be the best one yet.
Matt Kohls teaches seventh and eighth grades at Great Lansing Adventist School in Michigan. This article was published December 16, 2010.