I spotted this picture on a friend’s Facebook page and immediately asked if I could use it. I have never seen a “hanging nativity” scene before. Isn’t it clever? You have to hang them in a certain location in order to tell the story. Jesus has to go in the center, and everyone else, including the lamb, has a particular place to be.
At the heart of it, nativity sets are all about telling the story, which is why every house, especially homes with children, should have one. And, if I may be so bold, they should be made of something unbreakable so that the children can play with them, acting out and retelling the story themselves.
I have to confess that I am a bit of a nativity snob. A very long time ago a friend and I were traveling through Israel together and she mentioned to me, “I hate those nativity sets where Jesus is all alone in the manger, reaching up with his arms outstretched. It’s like he is saying, ‘Somebody pick me up!’ I know that is meant to be a kind of ‘glory’ moment, but he just looks cold and lonely to me.”
BAM. From that point on, I never wanted a nativity set unless Mary was holding Jesus. If I ever found a set with Joseph holding Jesus I would probably lose my mind.
The order of the characters in a nativity set helps to reinforce the lesson of Christmas. Shepherds take their place off to the side as invited guests. The angels float high above in all their reflected glory. The wise men, late arrivals to the scene by about two years, usually place themselves on the opposite side of the shepherds. (Kings and servants know their place.) Cows and lambs, displaced by all these humans intruding into their home, are scattered about according to height. Mary and Joseph flank the manger, looking downward adoringly at their son.
And in the center of it all is Jesus.
If Jesus isn’t at the center of Christmas, we are totally missing the point. All the rest of the nativity set is just window dressing.
When people are hungry, they fill their stomachs with food. Often with unhealthy food. When they are thirsty, they fill themselves with drink. Often with unhealthy drink. When they are sad, lonely, angry, depressed, disenfranchised, pushed aside, etc., they fill themselves with anything that makes them feel full. Often with unhealthy fillers. Christmas can be used in such a way…we fill our homes with tinsel and gaudy things, fill our time with overspending, fill our bellies with overeating and over-drinking, and use the season to try to complete a void in our lives. Then we wake up in January and realize that the void has become even bigger.
That can happen if we forget to keep Jesus in the center of it all.
I have a young friend who took her family to the mountains this year in lieu of a big gaudy Christmas. She was inspired to make memories instead of making a hole in her bank account from purchasing things her children would quickly outgrow. The trip was a revelation to her. Time spent together in the beauty of God’s creation was the greatest gift of all, and when her sons are old men, they will always remember this Christmas. That what happens when you put Jesus in the middle.
What changes can you make to your approach to Christmas that would put Jesus back in the center of your life? Where is God calling you to place yourself in the nativity set at the foot of the manger…and stay there all year? Going to church on Christmas Eve is a wonderful practice, but how about making a commitment to go every Sunday?
Let this Christmas be a beginning of your coming home to the nativity. With Jesus in the center, you won’t need any of the other trappings.
1 John 2 (The Message)
15-17 Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
A Precious Nativity by Patti Kohl Koehler