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FIRST-PERSON: Christmas accretions

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For years, nobody gave a thought to my birthday. I was never given to a lot of hoopla, so that was fine with me. I’m not against celebrating special events or observing religious festivals, but well, you don’t see people throwing birthday parties in Scripture, so I got along just fine without one.

Then one day my sister got into the act. Carolyn loves making people feel special and she had this bright idea.

“It’ll just be a little dinner for your birthday,” she said. “Just the immediate family.”

She wanted to do it so badly, I agreed to it. And, sure enough, it worked out. About 10 of us gathered at my house, Carolyn brought the cake and our other sister Patricia made dinner, and it was a nice evening.

That was the first year.

The next year, Carolyn started planning the birthday dinner several weeks in advance. She was not satisfied with the intimate gathering we had enjoyed last year. She had enjoyed it, she said, but she felt badly that more family wasn’t included. This year the whole clan would be invited.

I suppose everybody showed up, because our house was crowded and some had to eat out on the front porch. We had a big time, laughing, singing songs, eating. I bet I got my neck hugged a hundred times. I blew out the candles and we ate cake. To my surprise, a few people brought presents. That was nice, but unnecessary.

The third year, Carolyn realized she was on to something.

This time, she formed a birthday planning committee made up of her and Patricia and their husbands, Martin and James. They decided to invite the entire community, but since my house was so small, they would hold the party in the community center. They decorated the place in my favorite colors and posted pictures of me around, and had it catered and charged admission. That was not something I would have done, but no one asked me and I wasn’t actually on the committee.

I have no idea how many people showed up that year. All my relatives came, of course. They were proud the family was getting this kind of attention. But honestly, I did not know half the people who came and have no clue why they came. Perhaps it was the food or the music. Or, it might have been the gifts. Carolyn and Patricia had decided this year that everyone would get gifts. So, they tacked a little extra on the price of admission and bought a small gift for each person. I suppose it was fine. I didn’t think much of the band that played or some of their choice of music, but it was all right.

The fourth year, they enlarged the committee.

The mayor felt that a city-wide event like this should have input from the Chamber of Commerce and that the business interests should have a say-so. That’s how my birthday celebration became a civic thing. That was the year they took out legal papers for incorporating so that contributors would be able to take tax deductions. The florists really got into my birthday and suggested everyone send one another flowers in my honor. The department stores picked up on that theme, and before long my photos and my name were all over town. I would have been honored except it really did not seem to be about me and no one seemed to recognize me when I walked the streets of the town.

Carolyn was having a big time, though. She was being invited to appear on television and radio talk shows, telling about this great idea she had had for a birthday party for me, and spreading the word about the next celebration.

That year, the birthday party was held in a number of locations all over town, even in homes and offices. That in itself wasn’t so bad, but people were doing embarrassing things in my name. They were serving liquor, spending themselves into debt to buy presents, and using me as their excuse for indulging the flesh.

That was the year I quit going to my birthday party.

The fifth year, the parties spread in every direction. With the power of the media and the popularity of the internet, it seems that every person on the planet knew about my birthday and wanted in on the fun. The economy was becoming more and more driven by my birthday party sales and the exchange of presents, a fact that overwhelms me when you stop to think how simply I always lived and how uncommercial I have always been.

They still post my picture around, and my name is still on the event. My sister Carolyn has moved to New York City and opened a “Birthday-Celebration” office. She says she needs to be near the center of the action, that this thing has exploded and she wants to catch the wave, whatever that means. This morning’s paper said she and her board are meeting with the Securities and Exchange Commission to look into going public, selling stock in an IPO (again, whatever that means).

The last I heard people were arguing over just how prominent my name should be — or whether it should even be featured at all–in the publicity and events surrounding my birthday celebration. Some are even going to court over this, a fact I find amazing. With all the important teachings I left and the crucial matters this world is facing, that well-meaning people would fight over something I never commanded, do not need, and will not require, I find completely incomprehensible.

I suppose what I appreciate most are those thoughtful souls who think of me not only on my birthday, but at other times too, and do kind things to others in honor of me. That is present a-plenty for anyone.

In the eighth century B.C., God said to Israel, “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires this from you?” (Isaiah 1:12).
Joe McKeever is director of missions of the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association.

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  • Joe McKeever