Review: Christmas is Not Your Birthday

July 20th, 2011

Christmas has been hijacked, and Mike Slaughter is fed up. His latest book, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving Like Jesus, lines out what he suggests we do about it.

Slaughter, a well-known author and lead pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, begins by telling his readers to reconsider their expectations of Christmas in general and Jesus in particular. He of course denounces the mindless consumerism surrounding the holiday, but also offers a corrective found in Jesus’ birth narrative: the expectation of sacrifice—not the expectation of material gifts or creature comforts—is what guides Jesus’ entry into our world, both then and now.

Christmas, as the author sees it, has very little to do with tinsel and Santa Claus and a romanticized version of the perfect family holiday. These are cultural icons we have developed and preserved for our own comfort. Even though Christmas never lives up to our ideals, we continue to hope that we can create a version of perfect.

But as Slaughter condemns our self-centeredness, he also presents a new vision of what Christmas should be based on how he views the first Christmas. The birth of Jesus was a costly and dangerous event for Mary and her loved ones, and even though the event would bless the world, it would also demand much of those who take it seriously. The Christmas story showed God’s scandalous love for the unlovable and broken, including us.

If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday (and not ours), what gift should we bring him? Slaughter’s answer is a transformed life, evidenced by active involvement in meeting the physical needs of those who cannot provide for themselves.     

As in earlier works such as Change the World, Slaughter uses his reflections on Christmas as an opportunity to tout missional living that considers both local and global matters. He repeatedly references outreaches to the poor and hungry, including those who suffer in Darfur. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter ask for not only reflection on how Christmas could be different in theory, but for commitment to an action that will make Christmas different in reality.

In the final chapter of the book, Slaughter guides readers in their consideration of practical ways to make Christmas more about Jesus and less about consumer greed or guilt. In particular, he asks them to make changes in their parenting, service, and verbal witness to Jesus.

Ever the preacher, Slaughter’s writing is both conversational and confrontational. He offers engaging personal stories and anecdotes from his church, but does not hesitate to draw conclusions from those stories that demand change in the lives of his readers. Throughout the book, he walks a line between judgment and prophetic witness, mostly succeeding in the latter and usually avoiding the former.

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday provides a thoughtful look at our assumptions and actions surrounding our most cherished holiday. It can serve as a quick read for individuals, or a seasonal five-week study for small groups and Sunday school classes.

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