It seems preposterous to me that the One whose birthday is the reason for Christmas has been supplanted by Rudolph and Frosty. The reason Christmas is called a holiday is because it is a holy day. I especially love Christmas, because I love the joy it brings to bless others with gifts in the name of the Lord. I actually enjoy Christmas more now than I did as a child, because as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I love to give to those who cannot reciprocate. This truly exemplifies the purpose of Christmas: The Father gave to us who were in greatest need the gift of salvation through His Son Jesus. Paul said in Romans 5:6: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly…” The actual meaning is: at the right time, at the time of our greatest need, when we were helpless to save ourselves, God sent His Savior into the world.
I Love the Nativity!
I also enjoy decorating for Christmas, and my favorite things are Nativity sets, which I collect. Every year I like to add Nativity ornaments to my collection. But I must tell you, that’s not always easy, because more and more stores are carrying less and less nativities! It amazes me when I go to specialty stores with rows and rows of ornaments of every imaginable kind, including dogs, sports, occupational themes, and even foods… But not one Nativity! When I say something to the sales persons, they generally are taken back by this fact. They didn’t even realize that with all the hundreds of Christmas items they carry, they did not offer one single item about the Christ child! Some have explained that it wasn’t a matter of their deciding not to carry such items, but that their suppliers didn’t offer any. So I always make it a point to urge them to ask their suppliers for Nativity-oriented items, because there is a market for them… Right?
Unfortunately, just as there was no room in the inn for Jesus on the night of His birth, there appears to be no room for Him today in Christmas celebrations, songs, and saddest of all, the remembrance of why we celebrate Christmas.
A few years ago my son Todd bought me an outdoor lighted nativity set for the lawn, for which I was grateful and excited. I was weary with viewing all the blow-up, lit up Santas, Rudolphs, snowmen, trains, and trees that crowded my neighborhood. I got a lot of compliments on my unique Nativity, and a curious thing happened the next couple of years: Nativity sets appeared on neighbors’ lawns next to their Santas and snowmen. The thing that touched my heart the most was to know that when their grandchildren would ask them about their Nativity, they would hear the story of Jesus’ birth, which they would otherwise not hear in school or on TV.
A Vintage Nativity Story
I’d like to share a favorite “Nativity” story from Christmas Stories from the Heart published by Multnomah Publishers: It was early Christmas day when the pastor inspected his church before the morning service. He wanted to make sure everything was in order following the Christmas Eve service the night before. When he paused at the life-size Nativity set that graced a small stage in the sanctuary, he admired the beautiful figures of the shepherds and livestock that surrounded the holy family. Then he gasped when he realized that the figure of the baby Jesus was missing. Quickly he went through the church looking down every aisle, even getting down on his knees to look under the seats, but there was no baby Jesus to be found. He called the custodian to ask if he had seen the figure. Then he called the assistant pastor and other leaders, but no one had any idea what happened to the baby Jesus. It was evident that it wasn’t just lost — it must’ve been stolen, and this brought great sadness to his heart.
He told the congregation of the missing baby Jesus in the service that morning and that it must be returned before Christmas Day was over. But the hours passed and the manger remained empty. Feeling heavy-hearted, the pastor took a walk through the streets of the neighborhood when he saw one of his youngest members, six year old Tommy, pulling a bright, shiny new red wagon. Tommy’s family could barely make ends meet, so he knew what a sacrifice it was for them to buy the wagon. He hurried to catch up to Tommy to admire his new wagon, and when he drew near, he saw a blanketed form lying in the wagon — There it was, the missing baby Jesus! He knelt down beside Tommy to tell him how wrong it was to steal the baby Jesus. He knew that although Tommy was just a little boy, he was old enough to know that stealing was wrong. As he spoke, Tommy’s clear eyes filled with tears, which the pastor was certain must be tears of repentance.
Finally, Tommy spoke in a quavering voice: “But, Pastor, I didn’t steal Jesus. It wasn’t like that at all.” He paused to wipe away his tears. “It’s just that I’ve been asking Him for a red wagon as a Christmas present for a long time, and I promised Him that when I got it, I’d take Him out for the first ride.”
No wonder Jesus said that we must become like children if we would enter into the kingdom. The Christmas spirit can thrive in their guileless hearts and is why we must share the Christmas story with them every opportunity we can. And I have found a wonderful door-opener is a beautiful Nativity scene. Just as the angels told the shepherds of Bethlehem: “And this shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). Amidst all the glitter and tinsel of Christmas, the uniqueness and serenity of a simple Nativity can be God’s sign post to bring us back to the true reason for the season.
Away in a Manger
When I first started teaching Sunday school, I was given 2 to 4-year-olds. It was more like glorified babysitting, and I quickly learned that the best tools for teaching such little ones are crayons and music. Just as we begin our little one’s education with the “Alphabet Song”, teaching them God’s Word through songs gets the Word in their hearts. And have you ever seen or heard anything so sweet as a little child singing “Away in the Manger”? Especially when they clutch their little arms to their chest, swaying from side to side, as a mother would rock her baby to the lullaby: “Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where he day, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with thee there.”
Even in this simple children’s tune the message of the gospel shines brightly through.The best way we can celebrate Christmas is by keeping Christ in Christmas, even in the midst of an increasingly godless world and “perverse and crooked nation, amongst whom we shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life… ” (Phil. 2:15-16).