Happy Birthday, Jesus

(This is based on a post that I republish each year around this time.)

While you’re unwrapping your gifts this Christmas I wanted to take a few moments to unwrap the real Christmas story.

We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts on Christmas Day but it’s important that we take time to remember what Christmas is really all about. It’s more than just the gifts and the jolly man in the red suit. It’s more than a ‘feeling’ or ‘spirit’ that makes us feel warm inside. It’s more than time with family enjoying good food and good times.

I find it interesting that any time someone suggests removing the word ‘Christmas’ from our celebrations at this time of year there are cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ yet we still pay so little attention to what that word actually signifies.

While it’s generally accepted that the 25th of December isn’t the actual date that Jesus was born, it’s the day that has been chosen for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. That means Christmas is really a big birthday party.

So why should we be invited to the birthday party? Jesus was born around 2000 years ago. Why do we still celebrate his birth?

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, and this is where it gets tricky, according to the Bible, Jesus is actually God in human form so this is no ordinary birthday.

Here’s a little bit of the Christmas story from the Bible. This account is from a book of the Bible written by a guy named Luke.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no vacancy for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Aha! So that’s where the manger and the shepherds come in.

That’s pretty much the story of Christmas. God living among the people he created. It’s an amazing thought but it’s even more amazing when you thread the whole story of Jesus’ life together. After all, usually when we celebrate someone’s birthday we don’t just remember the day they were born, we celebrate who that person has become and what they’ve brought to the world.

If we’re still celebrating the life of someone born around 2000 years ago, we’ve got to assume that they lived a remarkable life. If you want to find out more about the remarkable life of Jesus, I’d encourage you to grab a Bible in an easy to read translation and then read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) to find out about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading Happy Birthday, Jesus? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.

RetroRadio – Ross Clifford

RetroRadio is a series of posts of radio interviews from my time working at 98five Sonshine FM covering everything from issues of spirituality to chats with visiting musicians and celebrities.

Hopefully, the interviews spark a few memories and a few thoughts.

I’m going back to November 2012 today with one of my regular guests on-air from that time, Rev Dr Ross Clifford. Back then we chatted about how Christmas has become a deadline rather than a celebration, an opportunity for friends and family to get together, a time to think about the first Christmas and the greatest gift of all.

I thought this discussion would be particularly relelvant at this time of year. You can hear our discussion using the media player at the bottom of this post.

Get it Finished

We have to have so much finished ‘before Christmas’. We want carpets laid, walls painted, projects finished, buildings built and so much more all before the 25th of December.

Buy Now!

Retailers tell us we must order now for delivery before Christmas, which I can understand to some degree if it’s something you want as a gift, but most of the time they’re just using the mention of Christmas to add urgency to their sales pitch.

Work Stress

Tradesmen are pushed to complete tasks that really have no relation to Christmas. Whether they’re completed before or after any particular date doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but those paying the bills want their projects all sewn up before the big day. Many workers are feeling the pressure to get the job done before Christmas.

Self-Induced Stress

Then there’s the pressure we put on ourselves. We must ensure that everything’s perfect for the big day. We turn ourselves inside out to make sure that we’re ready for those who will share Christmas Day with us. Gifts, food, decorations, drinks, the list goes on. It’s really no wonder that the ‘Joy of Christmas’ has given way to the stress of what’s become known as the silly season.

Slow Down – You Move Too Fast

So, have you felt the stress rising already? Have you ever stopped to ask whether the deadline you’ve given yourself is just a false deadline? Will it make any difference at all if it happens after Christmas?

Is Christmas a restful or stressful time for you? What plans are you putting in place this year to ensure that you actually enjoy Christmas instead of racing at warp speed until you collapse in a heap on the 26th of December?

[Note: All RetroRadio interviews on RodneyOlsen.net are a snapshot of the time they were recorded. We all grow and change and so the opinions and thoughts of those in the interviews at the time of recording may or may not necessarily be the same as they are today.]

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading RetroRadio – Ross Clifford? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.

Don’t Miss the Moment

For some, it’s a school play, for others a local church presentation, and then there are the big productions that that happen each year at this time. The original Christmas story is acted out across the world in many ways.

For many years I was involved in a local production that took the audience on a journey to Bethlehem and to a small stable with two new parents staring adoringly at their new baby.

The last time I had opportunity to be involved was two years ago. I was one of the wise men. Hard to believe, hey? 

Being on stage in the final scene gave me some unique insights.

From where I stood I could cast my eyes across the room to catch the audience responding to the nativity scene with its live animals and a real baby playing the part of Jesus.

There was a donkey, who mostly behaved, three sheep and a few chickens. What is it they say about working with children and animals?

What became clear over dozens of performances over the three nights was the difference between those who simply immersed themselves in the story and the scene before them and those who were more interested in capturing the moment on a smorgasbord of electronic devices.

There were some who managed to capture a few images but still stay connected with the story but those who seemed to have the single goal of recording the scene seemed to lose the wonder.

From children to adults, those who just let themselves be carried along by the story would beam with joy and amazement. You could see the delight in their faces as they encountered some of the surprises in the scene. Many were very obviously moved by a simple portrayal of the first Christmas.

Conversely, those who spent their whole time trying to capture the moment saw the larger than life story through their tiny screens. There was no wonder in their faces. There was only concentration as they tried to grab the best angle and attempt to record the full 360 degrees of the immersive experience. Will they ever watch what they recorded or will the files be deleted the next time they start running out of space on their device?

Snap. Let’s go.

Thinking about what happened reminded me of a holiday in Kalbarri decades ago with my dad. In the mornings I would drive to some incredibly picturesque spots, dad would get out of the car, walk a few steps, take a couple of pictures, then get back in the car.

In the afternoons, Pauline and I would go back to those spots to explore a little more and to more fully appreciate God’s creation.

Don’t miss the moment.

I love taking photos and even recording some video now and then but I still want to be part of the moment. I don’t want to lose the wonder for the sake of some images that can never truly capture what I’m experiencing.

This Christmas I hope that I’ll see some happy photos of people enjoying the day. I even want to see some Christmas food shots. I love that social media lets us share each other’s day, but don’t spend so much time on creating the perfect shot that you miss everything the day can be.

In the same way, I’m hoping that you allow yourself to be truly immersed in the stable scene that we remember at this time of the year. Don’t give the Christmas story a quick read through. Spend some time among the animals with Mary and Joseph and consider the enormity of the occasion.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23

God with us. That’s incredible. Put down the distractions this Christmas and let that truly soak in.

My wish for you is that you’ll really capture Christmas this year in a way that you perhaps haven’t before or maybe haven’t for a long time.

This Christmas I hope and pray that you’ll create memories that you can store in your heart rather than just the kind of memories that you can store on a hard drive.

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading Don’t Miss the Moment? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.

Please Buy Me a Goat

(This is an updated post from previous years.)

Once again, I’m conflicted. If I’m honest, I don’t really need anything for Christmas. If no one bought me a gift for Christmas, or any other occasion, I could survive. In fact not just survive but continue to thrive.

The conflict comes from the fact that I still enjoy receiving gifts. I love the unwrapping and the excitement of having something shiny and new. I also love the fact that people care enough to choose something for me.

It concerns me that while I’m enjoying lovely new things that I don’t really need, there are people in many parts of the world that don’t have the basics that they need to get on with the daily task of just keeping their families alive.

If Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, surely we should be doing something that honours him and his heart for the poor, rather than overindulging while most of the world goes without.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we should all be miserable and not fully enter into the celebrations at this time of year.


I suppose that’s where we all need some kind of balance between the giving and receiving of gifts between friends and loved ones and our wider responsibility to those in need around the world. We live in a global village but most of the villagers are missing out.

Those of us who’ve been blessed by simply being born in the right place should spare a thought for those who only ask for the gift of life this Christmas.

I might not have a lot of use for a goat but for a rural family in a developing country, the simple gift of a goat could be just what they need to break free from poverty.


So where do you buy a goat and how do you get it to someone who needs it?

Compassion Australia’s Gifts of Compassion is open and ready for business. Their gifts help people who are battling desperate poverty. They can take your money and turn it into a very real solution to poverty.

You can buy everything from mosquito nets to a rickshaw with lots more in between including chickens, cows, sewing machines and baby vaccinations.

Your support really does make a difference.

I’ve visited churches partnering with Compassion in seven of the 25 countries where they’re working and I can personally vouch for the work they do.

When you support those in poverty through Compassion, the aid really does make it to those who need it. In fact, it was after seeing the work of Compassion that I decided that I would do all I could to advance their work which is why I’ve now been working full-time for Compassion for just over five years.

This Christmas I do want to receive something for myself, wrapped in thought and love, but I also hope that someone will give me a goat or a chicken or a toiletry kit for someone I’ll never meet.

What about you?

Go on … you’ve thought about it before but unless you let your loved ones know now it’ll never happen. Ask those you love to buy something for someone else this Christmas.

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading Please Buy Me a Goat? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.

Shopping for Jesus

If you look carefully, among the lights, tinsel and brightly coloured decorations at your local shopping centre, you might also see a modest display depicting a stable.

All the usual suspects are there, Mary, Joseph, the animals, some shepherds and in the feeding trough, a small baby.

I read an interesting article around this time last year titled, “Most Australians like seeing baby Jesus in a manger at the mall”.

McCrindle research has shows that 9 out of 10 Australians feel that nativity scenes are part of Christmas and should be in our public spaces.

Even among Australians who practise a religion other than Christianity, 91 per cent are happy to see nativities, while 86 per cent of those who have no religious beliefs are also supportive, according to McCrindle.

While I’m encouraged to know that most Aussies still see the connection between baby Jesus and Christmas as important, we still seem a long way from allowing a place for the grown-up version of Jesus in public.

We seem to like the Jesus of Christmas.

I wonder if that’s because a baby is cute and inoffensive. Baby Jesus doesn’t throw the money changers out of the temple. Baby Jesus doesn’t call us to leave behind what the rest of the world is chasing to follow him. Baby Jesus doesn’t hang brutally beaten and bleeding from a cross in our place.

Despite protests from his wife and father-in-law, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2006 movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby prefers baby Jesus to adult Jesus. In the scene in the video below, everyone gets to choose their ‘favourite version of Jesus’.

Choose your Jesus

It’s a funny scene but there’s a lot of truth behind it. Many people seem to think they can choose their own Jesus. I hear people saying what they believe Jesus would and wouldn’t think about a range of issues without actually going to the source of information that truly reveals who Jesus was and is … the Bible.

I’ll certainly be celebrating the baby Jesus this Christmas but I refuse to leave him in a manger. The miracle of ‘God with us’ is truly awesome but the fact that God dwelt among us by taking on flesh must lead us to thinking of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Focussing on more than just the baby Jesus at this time of year makes the Christmas story even more wonderful and has consequences for each of us that stretch into eternity. That baby grew into a man who would change history. He changed history because he was not only a man but the God who defined history in the first place.

If you’re one of the majority of people who enjoy seeing the nativity at this time each year, let me encourage you to marvel at the manger but then look beyond to see Jesus for who he became and who he is.

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading Shopping for Jesus? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.