Sermon 1/15/23

Happy Birthday, Jesus! – Jeff Tindall

Have you parents here ever told your kids about the day they were born?

Did your parents tell you?

We do that with our kids every year on their birthday.

Sort of a family tradition.

AJ took three days to be born.

And that was after he was two weeks late!

Karen had to be induced – for three days!

We thought he would never show up!

But he did.

And we took him home from the hospital on our first wedding anniversary.

We just did that this past Monday – his birthday!

Julz, on the other hand, took just three hours.

A much more entertaining story.

She wasn’t due for a week or so and Karen and I went to a Christmas party at our neighbor’s house one evening.

Karen had a cup of egg nogg and we went home early.

At around three o’clock in the morning, I woke to find Karen staring at her watch.

Contractions coming faster!

Things were moving more quickly this time around.

Much more quickly! 

Time to go to the hospital!

We thought Julz was going to be born on the Fort Pitt Bridge.

When we got to the hospital Julz was born almost immediately.


We try to make the stories fun and memorable.

So, we want as many details as possible.

Why do we tell these stories?

Because the birth of our children is a memorable and important event.

We want our kids to know the stories because they are the stories of how their lives got started.

New life.

New family.

Stories to be honored.

Stories to be celebrated.

Stories to be remembered.

What does this have to do with Christmas?

It’s the story of Jesus’ birth.

A story to be honored.



We hear that story from Luke and Matthew.

First Luke.

Luke 2: 1-7

2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And now Matthew.

Matthew 1: 18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

On December 7, 2014, I got to see my first Christmas Concert here at JMPC.

You know what these concerts are all about, right?

It is a wonderful hour-long talent show for members of JMPC who perform sacred songs about Christmas.

It was awesome … and still is.

One moment I remember from that first concert was when a young girl in a red dress and with a big red bow in her hair stood on the chancel and sang “Happy Birthday, Jesus”.

I had never heard that song before.

I thought of it when I was writing this message.

Here are the words.

Happy birthday, Jesus
I’m so glad it’s Christmas
All the tinsel and lights
And the presents are nice
But the real gift is You

Happy birthday, Jesus
I’m so glad it’s Christmas
All the carols and bells
Make the holiday swell
And it’s all about You

Happy birthday, Jesus
Jesus, I love You

Those words make Christmas kind of what it’s supposed to be.

A celebration of Jesus birth!

What we do at Christmas is tell the stories we find, in part, from our scripture readings.

But there is something we need to think about.

These are the only ones.

No birth story in Mark.

No birth story in John.

No birth story anywhere else in the New Testament.

Only Luke and Matthew know anything about Jesus’ birth.

We really don’t know how Matthew and Luke learned about Jesus’ birth.

It seems like Matthew might have heard about it from Joseph, but by the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, Joseph was likely long dead.

It seems Luke might have heard it from Mary, but Luke does not tell us that. 

Maybe Matthew and Like heard these stories from the disciples, assuming Jesus shared them, and assuming Mary and Joseph told Jesus about his birth, which I think likely.

That must have been a memorable conversation!!

But however Luke and Matthew learned of the birth stories, there is no evidence that the disciples celebrated Jesus birthday.

Nothing in Acts, right?

There are a few references to Christians remembering and celebrating Jesus’ birth in the first century, but not at the direction of the Apostles.

There is a comment by Clement of Alexandria in 200 AD about folks who claimed to have calculated the year and date of Jesus’ birth, but that seemed to be of historical interest, not in an attempt to create a church holy day.

The first recorded celebration of Christmas took place around the end of December in 336 AD during the time of Pope Mark (not that Mark). 

Note that this was many years after Christianity became the favored religion of Rome.

Why would Jesus’ birthday be ignored?

Well, first, there is no evidence that Jews celebrated birthdays.

Birthdays were a pagan thing linked to a tradition of making an annual sacrifice to the god of that day.

So, you had to know the day.

Jews did not do that, so, the date of birth was not important.

And then there is this.

Maybe Jesus did not know the date.

Maybe Mary and Joseph didn’t know either.

That’s possible because there were no “dates”!

There were lots of different calendars in Jesus’ day.

The Jewish calendar was based not on days or weeks, but months.

And the months were determined by the cycle of the moon.

And that was not a particularly accurate way to decide what month it was.

In fact, the Jewish calendar had what we might call “leap months” when entire months were periodically added to the Jewish year so that the planning season could be better predicted.

So, we don’t know the day, week or month of Jesus’ birth, though we can make sum assumptions.

Most calculate the year as 4 BC based on some historical references both in the Bible and outside the Bible.

But the month and day?

Well, here goes.

Why late December, particularly December 25?

There are several explanations.

One is that we can sort of date Mary’s pregnancy to March 25 based on the date of Elisabeth’s pregnancy conceived on the particular Jewish holiday when Zachariah was told Elizabeth conceive a baby.

If Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when Mary conceived, then delivery was nine months later on December 25.

That’s the most interesting one I read – but there are more likely explanations.

Like the reason the Romans selected December 25.

It was the celebration of roman celebration of Saturnalia.

The midwinter observance of when the days started to get longer.

The Empire, and the church, wanted to make Christianity number one, so they imposed Christmas on the pagan holiday.

There was a bit of a mashup of traditions, but it worked, didn’t it.

So that gives us Christmas day.

But there is more!

Christmas is not only a day, but also a season!

A short season that lasts from Christmas Day to Epiphany (more about that next week) – 12 days!

That’s right!

The Twelve Days of Christmas!

What did folks do on those twelve days?

Frankly, they partied. 

It was like Mardi Gras for twelve days.

That was why we protestants tried to ban Christmas.

Not only was it really a pagan thing to begin with – birthdays and Saturnalia and all – but also because it was a “catholic invention”.

Plus … most folks spent the day and season – well – partying!

So, we protestants, the Puritans under Cromwell, our predecessors in England, banned Christmas , in 1647, (which resulted in rioting and annual protests).

People liked the twelve days of Christmas,

Christmas was not restored until 1660 when the monarchy was restored.

Over in the colonies, Boston banned Christmas in in 1659 and was not restored until 1681!

But by the 18th century, tidings of great joy became entrenched.

And the time remained – well – festive.

Much like we see in Dickens “A Christmas Carol”.

But we Presbyterians didn’t party, and were aligned with the Puritans, so we have never recognized Christmas as a “holy day”. 

Which is why we don’t have church on Christmas Day except when Christmas is on a Sunday.

So, there you have it.

A brief history of Christmas in the words of Pastor Jeff.

But I have to tell you that the way we celebrate Christmas at church these days does move me and based on the large number of people who show up for Christmas Eve, I don’t think I am alone.

So, you might ask, what do we make of that?

Is there a level of holiness beyond a birthday party?

I think son.

And, I think it’s this.

What happened when Jesus was born?

Immanuel – God with us.

God came here.

Yet God did not just come to us.

God became one of us.

God became human.

Not a human made in God’s image, but God, Godself, was fully human.

And that might be just as important as the cross and the resurrection.


Because when God became human, God restored God’s image in humanity.

Here’s what I mean.

It follows our lessons and carols service on Christmas Eve.

God had created humanity in God’s image to reflect God’s glory in creation.

Humanity had a purpose.

Humanity was to worship, God and enjoy God forever.

In this way humanity was to participate in God’s divine nature.

That gave us dignity.

But humanity wandered away from God and looked to inferior things, which was undignified, to say the least.

God reached out but humanity just kept on going pour own way.

But, God’s incarnation as Jesus, showed humanity that despite our waywardness, God still thought we were worth the effort to save.

Jesus allowed God to demonstrate and teach what it meant to reflect God’s glory,

To fulfill God’s purpose for humanity.

And so, to be fulfilled ourselves.

To again become participants of the divine nature.

To have our dignity restored.

This view on the incarnation is not new.

As far back or further that the mid-300s Athanasius, who was a vary big deal in those days, described the incarnation in this way.

This discussion was happening at about the same time Christmas was starting to pick up steam.

It wasn’t a birthday party.

It was the recognition that the birth of Jesus was pretty darned important.

It was the beginning of the plan of our redemption.

So, what we are celebrating on Christmas is the moment God dignifies humanity by becoming one of us.

That’s what we do, right?

We tell the story of his birth.

We gaze into the baby’s eyes and see heaven.

From that time on, the baby and the man did all that could be done to put heaven in our eyes.

I think that is why God decided to be born as a little baby boy named Jesus.

He wanted to find out what it was like to be us.

And he did.

So, when he grew up, Jesus knew what it was like to be us.

How hard it is sometimes.

And he could tell us what we should do.

And we would listen to him because he knew what it was like to be us.

He understood us!

And so that is why we tell this story.

It’s the beginning of Jesus’ part in the redemption story.

The story of the restoration of our dignity.

The reminder of what it means to be God’s image bearers.

What it means to participate in the divine nature of God.

All because of Jesus birthday when God became one of us.

Something worth celebrating.

Happy Birthday, Jesus! 

Sermon 1



One of things I like to do each year is look over my Presbyterian Calendar.

I like looking over the calendar.

It’s interesting.

One of the first things you notice about the Presbyterian Calendar is that it starts on September 1.

Can you think why?

It’s because that is when the “program year” for the church starts.

It is the nine month “season of church”, so to speak.

We have church all year, but we recognized that summer is a time of vacation and outdoor activity that distracts people from worship and Christian education, though we do a good bit of that, along with mission work, anyway.

September is when Summer is over and it’s time to get back to church for Christian Education and Worship.

The calendar has lots of information.

It tells me what the lectionary suggests as Sunday sermon texts; PCUSA suggestions for denominationally supported subjects for prayer, discussion and sermonizing; the special Sundays where we recognize specific theology or events in Jesus’ life, and a host of additional minutia.

Most importantly, though, the calendar tells me when the big church seasons are.

In order from first to last, the big church seasons are: 







These seasons are part of two “cycles” within the Christian year. commemorate and focus on significant parts of our Christian history and beliefs and traditions.

The first cycle is the “Christmas” cycle that includes Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

The second “cycle is the “Easter” cycle that includes Lent, Easter and Pentecost. 

Each cycle has a preparatory season (Advent and Lent) symbolized by the color purple representing royalty, penitence and preparation.

Each also has a festival season (Christmas and Easter) symbolized by the color white symbolizing joy and celebration, purity and particular events in the life of Jesus. 

Red is used only on the day of Pentecost and represents the fire of the Holy Spirit.

After each cycle there is an “ordinary time” symbolized the color green representing hope and growth. 

Have you ever wondered where these “Seasons of Worship” and their colors came from?

I can tell you that, with the exception of Pentecost, a Jewish feast day, none are referenced in the New Testament.

So where did they come from, when and why?

That is what we will be talking about for the next few weeks in a sermon series called “Seasons of Worship”.

Let me cover the liturgical colors first, because it’s easy.

The liturgical colors were not recognized unit the mid 1500’s

Which might have been instituted for the folks of the Middle Ages who had no calendars to tell them when it was Advent, for instance.

The colors are merely indications that the church is in a particular liturgical season with colors selected … well … I could not find out who did it and why.

The Reformed church, that’s us, rejected color in church generally, but over the centuries accepted them as a good thing.

The PCUSA tells such which colors to use on that calendar I mentioned before.

So on to the Seasons of Worship.

Today we will be talking about Advent. 

The first liturgical season of the Christian year.

But today we are also celebrating “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday.

This turned out to be a good thing because I see a connection between the two.

Which is why I picked our text for today. 

Which is why I picked our scripture reading for today.

Luke 3: 1-6; 21-22

3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” …

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The word “advent” means the coming into being or arrival of something.

So, we might it use to mean the something like the “advent” of the automobile or the internet.

Things that have already come-to-be or arrived.

We Christians use the term to mean that something is coming-to-be but has not yet arrived.

So, for us Advent is a season of waiting.

Historically and Biblically, the wait we commemorate is the wait for the Messiah.

We Christians know who that was now.


And so, Advent is the time when we commemorate the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

Luke seems to support that the coming of Jesus as the Messiah could be at Jesus’ birth or at Jesus’ baptism.

And like the birth story, Luke says nothing about baptism whatsoever after today’s text.

Remember Luke’s Gospel was written in the first century.

Jesus’ divinity was not really part of first century apostolic teaching and would not be for centuries.

Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ baptism are simply reported historical events subject to discussion and interpretation.

Understanding this allows us to hear Luke’s Gospel and to interpret it in terms of its place in time.

There are reasons to commemorate the advent of the baby and the advent of the baptism.

Stories of the Messiah who came to be, who arrived.

As to the baby, for the first few centuries after Jesus, the church paid no attention to a season of Advent.

We first hear of a season of advent in the 5th Century when Bishop Perpetuus of Tours declared a fast from November 11 to Christmas, the Sunday when the church honored the birth of Jesus (more about that next week).

Advent was sort of a local thing in Tours apparently.

Advent was not recognized by Rome for another 100 years, when Pope Gregory the Great adopted it and shortened it to the four weeks before Christmas. 

I am sure that was a relief to those fasting in Tours.

The basic idea of Advent, much like Lent, was to set forth a period of time for folks to “prepare” for the upcoming Holy Day – the celebration of the Messiah’s arrival.

But here is where it gets tricky.

Where things don’t quite fit into the seasons.

The “Holy Day” that folks were to commemorate was not the same in different parts of the church.

There were two views.

One Christmas.

The birth of Jesus announced by the angels.

That was in the western church of Pertetuus and Gregory (Rome).

The other was that the Holy Day was Jesus’ baptism.

The day of Jesus’ ordination so to speak as Messiah via a voice from heaven and anointing by the Holy Spirit.

That was in the eastern church (Constantinople).

Both focus on a different Biblical way of identifying Jesus as Messiah who cam-to-be.

So, which is it?

Maybe both.

Does it matter?

Probably not.

But is interesting.

The events described by Luke today are thirty or so years after Jesus’ birth.

John the Baptist, son of Elisabeth and Zacharias, has taken on the mantel of the prophet described by Isaiah.

The one crying out in the wilderness telling people to prepare the way of the Lord – the Messiah.

It is unlikely that any of the people John was preaching to knew anything about Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, a stable, angels, shepherds, or the birth of a child placed in a manger.

But Luke knew it.

He describes all that earlier in his Gospel.

And now Luke describes a different messianic announcement.

Not of the birth of a new-born king.

The announcement of the imminent arrival of a fully grown Messiah!

To the folks who were waiting for the Messiah sent by God to free them from the tyranny of their oppressors.

Emperor Tiberius.

Pontius Pilate.


Herod’s brother Philip.

Lysanias ruler of Abilene.

The high priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas.

The Messiah was coming to return the people to their place as God’s chosen nation.

It was time to get ready.

Time to prepare.


One way was to get baptized.

It’s important to understand what baptism meant to John.

Baptism was a means of penitence.

To be permitted to stand in the presence of God one had to undergo ritual cleansing.

Immersion in water.

It was what was necessary as part of the preparation for the presence of God. 

Making the way of the Lord.

That is what is happening in our text.

John is telling the people to get ready.

And then Jesus showed up.

Last in line, Jesus, too, was baptized by John.

Luke describes no conversation between Jesus and John.

Luke just describes a different sort of heavenly announcement.

The Holy Spirit descends and a voice from heaven blesses the wet Jesus.

Jesus leaves the water and starts on his journey to the cross.

I love this story.

To me it connects Jesus’ birth to Jesus’ mission.

Jesus was born for this.

To become one of us.

And to show us how he would do it.


Think about it for a moment.

While we love to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, we can’t go there with the shepherds.

But what we can do is go to the baptismal water, enter into it, and then remember that Jesus went into that same water.

The water we are baptized in is the same as the water Jesus was baptized in.

This water.

The water God created in the beginning and is still with us today.

We enter into this water which connects us to God.

It is the way of the Lord.

That is why we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

It is considered by many to be the “advent” of the one who saves us.

The advent of Jesus the Messiah.

So, Advent might include both birth and baptism.

But maybe there is more advent remaining.

The moment we commemorate at this table.

When the Messiah who was born, baptized and died on the cross brought us into the presence of God.