‘Tis the season… to celebrate birthdays. We are in the season of Advent, in which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. As if that were not enough reason for me to celebrate, today (which will have passed by the time you read this) happens to be my thirty-first birthday. If you will humor me, then, I will try not to draw too strong of a comparison between the two birthday boys.
I know that we as a congregation have made a big deal out of my youthfulness – that is one of the reasons why you extended a call for me to become your pastor earlier this year. I hope that this “young pastor” bit is not becoming tiresome for you! But the occasion of one’s own birthday is an opportunity for a person to do a little self-examination. How have I grown as a disciple? What have I achieved as a member of society? What is left to do? Where have I failed? Where can I grow?
Scripture tells us (in Luke 3:23) that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. Oddly enough, so was I! Of course, the career comparisons between Jesus and me end there. Our Lord, in a period of no more than a few years, managed to attract a huge following, proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, heal the sick, raise the dead, sacrifice himself for the sins of all humankind through his crucifixion, and conquer death by rising from the dead. I may have big dreams for our work together at Mt. Haley, but they certainly aren’t that big!
Sometimes, on my birthday, I pause to think about the meaning of my life, relationships, and accomplishments. Perhaps you have similar thoughts and feelings on your birthday. Certainly, none of us is as significant as Jesus Christ himself, but it is valuable to realize our importance in the work of his kingdom.
If you have a Bible handy, take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 12, the entire chapter. This is the first chapter in Paul’s three-chapter teaching on spiritual gifts and the value of love in the church. (If you have extra time, you might read all of chapters 12, 13, and 14 in one sitting – they go together!) This twelfth chapter teaches us that we together form Christ’s body on earth. What an amazing thought: none of us can be as valuable as Christ on our own, but together we comprise one body, the church, which is in fact that valuable. We are the embodied presence of Christ on earth – what a powerful truth!
Chapter 12 also teaches us that none of us are indispensable. Each of us is important, even necessary, for the body to function the way it does. The questions we ask of ourselves on our birthdays can be asked at any time. Who am I? How do I fit into God’s work in the church? What have I accomplished? What is left to do? Where can I grow?
I pray that you take time in this Advent season to reflect not only on the birth of our Savior, but also on your role as a member of his body, the church. Do a little self-examination. See if the Lord is challenging you to grow, to take on new responsibilities, to heal broken relationships. And remember that this reflection isn’t like what happens on a normal human birthday, which can be awfully self-centered; we function in connection with each other, so what I do affects you, and vice versa. The body of Christ is a community, and each of us plays a significant role in it.