I stood before our congregation in the fall of 2004 and said, “I want you to have a slim Christmas this year . . . and whatever you spend on your family, bring an equal amount for hunger relief in the Sudan. Because Christmas is not your birthday; it’s Jesus’ birthday.”
That Christmas, our people brought a Christmas miracle offering of more than $300,000. Since then, we’ve raised over $5 million for The Sudan Project, our humanitarian program in Darfur, Sudan, by repeating that same message each year: “Christmas is not your birthday. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”
Use the “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” theme this year to inspire your congregation toward a more Jesus-centered holiday that focuses not on all the material gifts we’ll give and receive, but on how we can bless others in Jesus’ name. Include the following components:
- Sermon series—weekly messages from the first Sunday of Advent to Epiphany Sunday address steps along our journey toward Jesus’ birthday.
- Christmas Miracle Offering—each week, issue the bold call for congregants to reassess their spending this Christmas and bring a generous offering for a particular mission.
- Small group study—Sunday school classes or small groups all read and discuss Christmas is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving like Jesus. Each chapter includes discussion questions and corresponds to the weekly sermon theme so groups can dig deeper and share their personal experiences. (Download the free study guide below for more discussion questions and ideas!)
Advent 2012 Update: A complete program for all age levels is now available, based on Christmas is Not Your Birthday. See the A Different Kind of Christmas resources below.
By uniting sermons, a call to stewardship, and small group study, your whole church can experience the peace that comes from a simple, generous Christmas and the joy that comes from being part of a real Christmas miracle.
Week 1 (Nov. 27, 2011)
Christmas is Not Your Birthday
Introduces the theme for the series—the fact that Christmas has become a consumer-centered orgy of materialism and self-indulgence and we need to refocus on Jesus, his purpose in coming, and the birthday gifts he truly desires.
Scripture: I Cor. 1:3-9. “Do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”
Offering: Introduce the vision of the Christmas Miracle Offering—spending less on our own families at Christmas and bringing an equal amount for the church’s chosen mission.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Nov. 27-Dec. 2 should distribute copies of Christmas is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving like Jesus. Read the Introduction together and talk about your hopes for this Christmas season.
Week 2 (Dec. 4, 2011)
Expect a Miracle
Who gets top billing in our Christmas celebrations? Santa Claus or Jesus? Too often, the two morph together into a magical Santa Claus deity that comes just to grant our wishes. We tend to confuse magic and miracle, craving a magical, holly-jolly holiday rather than an experience of the miracle that God came to earth in such a humble form.
Scripture: Is. 9:2-7. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined.”
Offering: Emphasize that God does miracles through ordinary, simple people like Mary and Joseph—and like you and me! We have the power to do amazing things . . . if we are willing to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the good of others.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Dec. 4-9 discuss chapter 1 of Christmas is Not Your Birthday, Expect a Miracle.
Week 3 (Dec. 11, 2011)
Giving Up On Perfect
This week’s sermon examines our unrealistic expectations for the “perfect” Christmas. How much money, time, and energy go into chasing this unattainable ideal set for us by Norman Rockwell? The first Christmas was pretty messy, and life today is pretty messy—but God shows up in the middle of the mess to bring us a message of hope.
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38. “’You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’. . . Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’”
Offering: Encourage people to examine their holiday spending and what purpose it serves. Show the messy places that will benefit from the Miracle Offering and how we can be a message of hope in those places.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Dec. 11-16 discuss chapter 2 of Christmas is Not Your Birthday, Giving Up On Perfect.
Week 4 (Dec. 18, 2011)
We often fail to understand just how scandalous God’s love for us is, and how radical it is that God would show that love by lowering himself to be born in human form. Using the story of Hosea, this week’s sermon emphasizes how doggedly God pursues us, in spite of our unfaithfulness.
Scripture: Hosea 3:1-5. Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover.”
Offering: God loves us with a scandalous love, so we must respond by loving others in that same way.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Dec. 18-23 discuss chapter 3 of Christmas is Not Your Birthday, Scandalous Love.
Week 5 (Dec. 24/25, 2011)
Jesus’ Wish List
We put so much time and energy into finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones—but what about the things the real Birthday Boy wants from us? Jesus made it clear that we give to him by giving to others—feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned.
Scripture: Matt. 25:31-46. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Offering: This week is the culmination of the Christmas Miracle Offering, as people are asked to bring their gifts to Jesus in celebration of his birthday.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Dec. 25-30 discuss chapter 4 of Christmas is Not Your Birthday, Jesus’ Wish List.
Week 6 (Jan. 1, 2012)
By a Different Road
On Epiphany, we celebrate the magi’s visit to see Jesus, and note how they were transformed by their experience of the Christ child. As we start a new year, let’s resolve to make things different, to live a life transformed by Jesus.
Scripture: Matt. 2:2-12. “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another road.”
Offering: Celebrating the amount given in the Christmas Miracle Offering, encourage people to live generously year round.
Study: Classes and groups during the week of Jan. 1-6 discuss chapter 5 of Christmas is Not Your Birthday, By A Different Road.