One of my favorite things to do as a child was to help my mom decorate for Christmas. We would go get the boxes of Christmas decorations out of Grandma Rose’s attic and mom and I would spend several hours decorating our trailer we lived in for Christmas. We didn’t have room for a big tree, but we had a small one that stood on a stand and that was just fine for me. I received a Christmas ornament each Christmas and I would take each one out and decorate our small tree. We would put tinsel on the tree. We would hang bows and Christmas streamers. We even did some aerosol snow a couple of years. It was simple, but so special for me.
The one thing that was the most special for me though was a little nativity scene we had. It was nothing special. It was made out of plastic and even then was starting to show its age. It featured the usual suspects, the pairs of sheep, a camel, a donkey, a single angel, the chronologically misplaced trio of wise men, and a young family consisting of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus taking center stage. I would get to arrange all the figures in the scene. The center stage of the show was baby Jesus laying in a small manger. We would set the little manger on top of a little decretive miniature straw bale my mom had so that the baby Jesus would be brought into even more prominence.
Our crèche was not a closed box. Mom had a wooden, crate-like decoration, which did not come with the set, but became our small barn. I’ve never seen a crèche with four walls and I think this is for a reason. The scene is meant to remain open, each participant circling around the One who set aside his glory to sleep in an animal trough. I always arranged everyone circling baby Jesus and I’m sure that you do as well. It is the way it is supposed to be.
When God dressed Himself in flesh and stepped down into our world, He drew a diverse crowd, which included laborers from the nearby hills, the wealthy from a far-off land, and two little Israelites contending with a new marriage and this mysterious baby.
There is no way of knowing exactly how many have come to see Him in these two thousand and some years since this birth scene first happened. With each Christmas season that comes upon us, Christians around the world keep setting the scene through their own nativity scenes they set up in remembrance of that night. We arrange our inner lives to make the Savior central, putting Him on display in our homes for the whole world to see, or at least everyone who comes into our homes.
Usually it does not seem like enough. We try ever so hard to be filled with joy and unashamed of the gospel, but for all of our effectiveness, sometimes, we might just as well be a chipped up little sheep crowded out of the barn in this nativity scene.
The impact we make for Christ has less to do with our methods and manipulations than with the radiant life that emerges from inside of us. Jesus always took the time to pray, even as the time of His arrest, illegal trial, and death drew near. He asked for His followers to be one body, joined together in Him. We wee this in His own works from the book of John.
John 17:21 (NIV)
21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
This was a tall order with a great promise. When believers are unified in Christ, it will be such a powerful testimony that the world will believe Jesus has been sent by God.
It certainly worked that way in Christ’s first coming as He drew together people of every kind in those early days, from earthly sheepherders and the magi that came from far away, to tireless saints like Simeon and Anna. They had little in common, but in worshipping the newborn King, they united with those who had come before them and all who would follow. This communion of saints would include a ragtag band of disciples, the first century’s disparate blend of Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and members of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). It includes each one of us who believe in Jesus even to this very day.
Each Christmas we focus on that single scene of the nativity, arranging the pieces just so, meditating on how it must have been. Yet what’s surprising is how quickly the Gospels hurry past this encounter. Luke described it this way when speaking of the shepherds, who were stunned at the arrival of a great company of angels:
Luke 2:16-17 (NIV)
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
More than anything, this is a description of movement. The heavens exploded in song, and the shepherds reacted by racing off to see what had happened. Then after they had worshipped the King, they ran off to spread to word of what they had seen to whoever they came in contact with.
It makes me wonder if we haven’t spent too many hours lingering in the stable, taking in the scene of the baby Jesus at the expense of going, telling, loving, and praying for that perfect unity that was going on that Jesus so hoped for us to enjoy. We often spend too much time looking at the scene and far too little time telling others about the scene. As we reacquaint ourselves with sparkling lights and those nostalgic decorations from Christmas past, let’s remember that life itself is but just a season. It is a season that is meant for drawing nearer with Christ and to each other. Maybe it is time for us to take our nativity out of our house so that others can enjoy it as well.