I carefully unwrap each porcelain figurine, setting them within the rustic wooden creche. A shepherd with a lamb, three wise men dressed in fine robes, a donkey, a sheep and an ox. An angel with outspread wings looks down upon Mary and Joseph gazing at the baby in a hay-filled manger. Draping a string of small white lights behind the nativity scene, I stand back to see the effect and my heart is warmed with wonder once again.
When my mother found faith in Christ later in life, she especially treasured this nativity set, now handed down to me. I remember her eyes lighting up with joy as she reverently placed each figure. She told me she liked to imagine what that night was like for those present, but she could identify best with Mary, Jesus’ mother. After all, she was a mother too and could remember in detail the birth of each of her three children.
How is it that the story of a baby boy birthed by a poor teenaged girl in an obscure middle eastern village centuries ago, has become the focus, the purpose, the joyous reason for the best-loved celebration of the year? The facts of the story are ordinary but for the baby’s miraculous conception and identity. It is this infant who sets the story apart, who has given longevity to a tale no different from many birth stories, but for His heritage.
“Nativity” means birth, or origin, especially in relation to the circumstances surrounding it. The nativity of Jesus Christ occurred in Bethlehem long ago, but His origin is without beginning. During His earthly ministry He was confronted by the Jews about who He claimed to be. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58 NIV) They could not miss His reference to God’s own name for Himself. “God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM. This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.” (Ex. 3:15)
The mystery of the incarnation will forever bewilder and fascinate. The essence of almighty God planted in the womb of a woman? Pushed into the world the same as those He created, shivering in the cold, held to His mother’s breast? I can only think about this mind-stretching concept for a short while. It is beyond me, but the actuality of God’s plan is as real as my own heartbeat. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14 NLT) He made His home among us! This is the essence of Christmas, the truth behind every nativity scene, the gift given with love beyond scope. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, walked this earth like you and I, died and rose again, then gave us His Spirit to dwell in our hearts, as close as our very breath.
Every year when I cradle that little porcelain baby in my hands and place it in the manger scene, Christmas hits me anew. God came, He lived with us, and He still does.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.