Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the Christmas season has begun. Many of us spend Thanksgiving weekend watching football and getting ready for Christmas. We do some shopping, work on our plans for our celebration, and decorate our homes.
Our family decorating included setting up our nativity set. I have written here and elsewhere about my fascination with nativity displays. I love what they depict, but have warned that we need to remember they are sanitized versions of the story—quieter and sweeter smelling than the real thing must have been.
This year, looking at my newest nativity set, I was reminded of another set I saw many years before.
While shopping in the local mall, I came across a Native American depiction of the scene. The backdrop wasn’t a barn, but a tepee. The donkey was replaced by a horse and the cow by a bison. Mary and Joseph were dressed in traditional Native American clothing, and Jesus’ swaddling clothes weren’t a drab off-white, but bursting with color. Some 30 years later, I still regret not having purchased it.
It was then that I began to learn another message of our nativity sets. They are not intended to be historical representations of what actually happened. Instead, they are reminders that God has come to us in Jesus. Regardless of culture, skin color, history, wealth or lack, Jesus came for us.
This is the story Matthew, Luke, and in a different sense John (Mark doesn’t tell the Christmas story), are trying to tell us in their Christmas narratives. This, I believe, is the story of our faith.
Jesus isn’t born in Jerusalem, the religious center of the Jewish world. Instead, he is born in Bethlehem, about 6 miles to the south. He isn’t born in a home and placed in a cradle. Instead he is born out back in a stable, and sleeps that first night in a feeding trough. Jesus isn’t surrounded by the religious and powerful, but by a group of unexpected people whose figurines we set up in our nativity scenes.
This is the oft-missed message of Christmas.
I am concerned there are many who think Christmas isn’t for them. Some who think they are too ordinary, too secular, too busy, or too far gone. Others who think they don’t believe the “right” things, don’t agree with church positions, or simply don’t fit into the religious culture. Still others who think their lives are too messy, filled with too many mistakes, or have too much history to be overlooked.
Christmas tells exactly the opposite story. Nativity sets and the stories behind them proclaim that God has come in the person of Jesus to everyone—even those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in.
During these next several weeks leading up to Christmas, I want to share that story with you. It’s a deeper dive into the Christmas narratives than I ever had time for when I preached on Christmas Eve, but I think it is helpful.
At the risk of giving it away, here is where we will be going: Christmas is for you. Not the you that you could be if only you could break that habit, find more quiet time, or hadn’t done that thing that embarrasses you. But the real you, the messed up you, the flawed you.
Christmas is for you.