A few years ago I was attending a Christmas celebration, family and friends were having a wonderful time of enjoying each other’s company (a rarity for many Christmas celebrations) when all of sudden something in the other room caught my eye. I slowly began working my way towards the object of my curiosity. Stepping over toys and dodging children I finally navigated my way across the house. And there it was, the item of intrigue. I finally realized what it was, and it caused a deep seated response …”OH, NO WE ARE NOT!” (To this day I cannot tell if it was audible or just an internal lament.) You see, what was lying before me was a nicely decorated cake with the inscription: Happy Birthday Jesus. I was immediately dismissive and critical of such an idea. I was thinking: how in the world does this bring any honor to Jesus when it is so incredibly cheesy? The bile was slowly creeping up my esophageal tract as I stood in judgment of the anticipated events. And then, it happened, the host emerged and called all in attendance to the dining room. When the final stragglers finally arrived the singing began:
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Jesus,
Happy birthday to you.
As the cake was being consumed, one of the children approached the host and asked a very insightful and very appropriate question which silenced and shamed my unjustified criticism, the exchange went something like this:
The child asked: “Why did we sing happy birthday to Jesus?”
The host replied: “Because that is why we celebrate Christmas…it is a celebration of Jesus being born.”
Host: “Yes, really. Jesus, who is God, came to earth as a human…and Christmas is a good time to remember that.”
Child: “Oh, I never knew that.”
Needless to say I was shocked. Did that really just happen? Did God just use us singing happy birthday to Jesus as a means of creating gospel opportunity? Indeed, he did!
So now, years later, I reflect back upon this even and I am encouraged. I love that the host of the party was trying to be relevant to the people who were in attendance. I love that they tried to communicate as effectively and as accurately they could the reality of the story of Jesus’ birth, using traditions that were familiar to the intended audience. I learned two important things that day: (1) I learned that I needed to repent from my judgmental arrogant heart. (2) I learned that we should be creative with the opportunities our culture provides to have gospel opportunities.