Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the Christmas season hasÂ begun. Many of us spend Thanksgiving weekend watchingÂ football and getting ready for Christmas. We do someÂ shopping, work on our plans for ourÂ celebration,Â and decorate our homes.
Our familyÂ decorating included setting up our nativity set.Â I have written hereÂ andÂ elsewhereÂ about my fascination with nativity displays.Â I love what they depict, but have warned that we need to remember they areÂ sanitizedÂ 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 ofÂ another setÂ I saw many years before.
While shoppingÂ in the local mall, I came across aÂ 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 theÂ 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 outÂ back in a stable, and sleeps that first night in a feeding trough.Â JesusÂ isn’t surrounded by the religious andÂ powerful, butÂ byÂ aÂ group of unexpected people whose figurines we set up in our nativity scenes.
This is the oft-missed message of Christmas.
I am concernedÂ 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’tÂ 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 setsÂ and the stories behind them proclaimÂ that God has come in the person of JesusÂ to everyone—evenÂ those who feelÂ 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 aÂ deeper dive into the Christmas narrativesÂ than I ever had time forÂ 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.Â 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.