Each day between December 1-25, we will look at one of the traditional symbols of Christmas, what these symbols mean and how they tell the Christmas story of our Savior’s birth.
One of the most heart-warming expression of Christmas is the Nativity. The word nativity is taken from the Latin nativus, which means “arisen by birth.” Nativities are art, models, carvings, or live demonstrations depicting the night of Jesus’ birth. These scenes generally contain the same elements: the Christ child in a manger; His mother, Mary; His earthly father, Joseph; shepherds; angels; various barn animals; and sometimes three wise men.
The Mystery of God’s Wisdom is seen in the Nativity
The Nativity speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send His Son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings and in a filthy cattle stall, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found Him knelt in humility before Him. Knowing God is possible because He came to us, at our level.
Whenever we see a Nativity, we find ourselves with Mary and Joseph; with the shepherds, and with the wise men; bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us.
God’s Love Revealed in the Nativity
The passion of God’s heart for us was revealed through the gift of Christmas. God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, was that gift of love. Obscure and common, miraculous and divine, God sent His love in a tiny baby boy born
in a humble manger. This little Child would change the world forever.
This baby would define time, bring kings to their knees, reach to the lowest sinner, and save all who would believe.
Biblical Account vs. Traditional Nativity Scenes
The nativity scene takes its inspiration from the accounts of the birth of Jesus as told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke. Luke describes an angel announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds who then visit the humble site where Jesus is found lying in a manger, a trough for cattle feed. Matthew tells us about the “wise men,” sometimes referred to as magi, who follow a star to the house where Jesus dwelt, and indicates that the Magi found Jesus some time later, approximately two years after his birth, rather than on the exact day.
While the Magi and the angels are often displayed in a nativity scene with the Holy Family and the shepherds, according to Biblical accounts the angels appeared in the field where the shepherds were tending the flocks and the wise men didn’t arrive until two years later. They were not in the stable with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Only the shepherds came the night of his birth to see the promised Messiah.
In spite of the discrepancies depicted in most nativities and the Biblical account, the most important thing about a nativity is its message to the world: Because our sin requires a perfect sacrifice before a holy and just God, our Heavenly Father sent His own Son to earth as a man so that He could become that sacrifice (John 3:16). The child who was born to Mary and laid in a manger would one day grow up to die on a cross and rise again so each and every person who believes in Him may receive forgiveness for sin and eternity in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4).
The First Nativity
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 at Greccio, central Italy, in an attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving. Staged in a cave near Greccio, Saint Francis’ nativity scene was a living one with humans and animals cast in the Biblical roles.
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