The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Why Was a King Born in a Stable?

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“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7)

When I was a kid the Christmas story made me sad because Jesus was born in a nasty stable. He should have been born in a palace! He was the King of kings for Pete’s sake! It was a shame that Mary and Joseph were forced to seek refuge in such an ugly, smelly place. She should have had the best doctors tending her as she gave birth instead of dumb animals. This was the Son of God! It was so unfair.

Or maybe, that was just how He planned it all along. Perhaps, in His divine purpose, Jesus chose the stable as His birthplace and a manger as his bed to make a statement that no place is too lowly for Him. Not the slums of the city or the farthest backroads of the country. Not a crack house or a bar or a brothel.  And I believe he wanted to assure humanity that no person is too sinful for Him. Not an alcoholic or drug addict. Not the girl who had an abortion or the young man who sits in a prison cell. Not the woman with the worst reputation in town nor the man who drove away everyone who ever loved him. Not me. Not even you.

Aren’t you glad to know that there is no place that is too smelly or ugly that Jesus will not go? There is no person too far gone that Jesus cannot love.  The Bible says His closest friends were smelly fishermen and hated tax collectors and healed demoniacs and lepers and people at the lowest rungs of society.  I think there was no room in the inn because Jesus wanted to show that there was enough room in His heart for the whole world – wherever and whomever you are.

Little King

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Solomon was considered one of the greatest kings of Israel. The son of King David, he inherited the kingdom and spread out his rule for many, many miles and amassed an unfathomable amount of wealth. He sat upon an enormous throne of gold and ivory. Silver was inconsequential in Jerusalem during Solomon’s reign because the king and the city were so incredibly wealthy. Solomon was born in a king’s palace and his destiny was the throne. Though he was considered wise and good to his subjects, his own wants and needs always took precedent. He never knew poverty or want and could fulfill his every desire and whim. He was born and bred to be a king.

Paul paints a contrasting picture when he said that “Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . .” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus, the eternal King humbled Himself – “made Himself nothing” – the word used here denotes something hollow, empty, and of no value – to identify with humankind. He never lost sight of who He was, but He did not claim privileges and prosperity as would befit His royal identity. It was an act of His gracious will to do so because it was the only way to save mankind.

Tell me – how many earthly kings do you know of who humbled themselves to be one with their subjects? How many earthly kings, fully aware of their power and authority, choose to live and walk and sleep among the poorest of their people? How many earthly kings would set aside their crown and take up the mantle of suffering to save – not only their own subjects – but those who have set themselves against him? Only One. Only Jesus. Only one King would make himself an empty vessel of no earthly value to rescue and redeem a lost and dying world who has rejected Him outright at every turn. Only one King would humble Himself to the point of servanthood. Only one King would set aside His royal identity to become a helpless infant born to impoverished parents and live a life of struggle and ridicule and persecution. Only Jesus would do all that – and He did it all for you, Beloved.

Pigs and Kings at the Manger

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Like all little kids, my granddaughter loves to talk and she has a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 2 ½-year-old. With a few malapropisms which I love. She will say “Will you pick my up?” “I want your cup (meaning her cup).” And she calls Sunday School “Honey” School which it will forevermore be. She will get them right eventually, but for now, I think they are adorable and I have no intention of correcting her.  Sometimes it’s okay to not get things right. But the Bible is something we always want to get right.

Take the Christmas story for instance. Every nativity scene comes with a stable with Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the manger. There are shepherds and angels and some animals. My best friend, a Bible nerd like me, once saw a Fisher-Price Little People nativity set and noticed a pig among the animals. She wrote to the company and explained that a Jewish family would not have a pig among their animals because pigs, according to the Jewish Law, are unclean. Want to hear a Christmas miracle? They took the pig out. The scenes also have three kings bearing gifts. This comes straight from Matthew 2 which reports the visit of the Magi. Only Matthew never said how many wise men there were, only that they presented three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.” John Henry Hopkins said there were three kings[1] and we just took his word for it. And they didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. Jesus was about 2 years old when they made their way from the east after seeing the star (see Matthew 2:16).

Now pigs in a kid’s nativity set and three wise men at the manger don’t seem like such a big deal. But they are the small, seemingly insignificant ways that the culture has altered the truth and the church has accepted it as fact. Which makes it easier to accept other changes, more important changes like Jesus was a great teacher and humanitarian but He really wasn’t God. Mary wasn’t really a virgin. Jesus fell into a coma-like trance but He wasn’t really dead when they buried Him in the tomb. Which leads to God really doesn’t forbid certain sins because He wants us all to be happy. Even Madonna (the singer) said that Jesus would approve of abortion. Do you see what a slippery slope that becomes?

So should you move your Magi away from the stable, maybe put them on a table on the far side of the room? I’ll leave the decorating to you, but I will say that you and I need to be certain we are hearing and believing the truth from the Word of God. There is more at stake than pigs and kings.


[1] “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Ó 1857.

Telling the Story of Christmas

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made. A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men” (vs. 8-14)”.

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show. For fifty-six years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that sent His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world. The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels. It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable. But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross. Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Christmas is . . .

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Despite what my family and friends claim, I love Christmas.  I just don’t like what Christmas has become, especially in the West. Christmas hymns give way to the sweet sound of the ka-ching of the cash register as the stores stock up long before Thanksgiving. There’s no space left for the manger and the baby under our festively decorated trees. “Merry Christmas” is for sale on blankets, dishes, doormats, toilet seat covers, and ugly sweaters. Every celebrity offers their version of “songs of the season” delivered in over-produced T.V specials. And do not get me started on cheesy “Christmas” movies – I would rather walk through shards of broken glass in my bare feet than watch one. In fact, the entertainment industry has done a good job of redefining Christmas for us. Ask most people what Christmas means and the answers are usually:

“Christmas is about caring.”

“Christmas is about sharing.”

“Christmas is about family.”

Christmas, according to the secular world, is about very different things than the church sees.

Or is it? Maybe that’s good common ground for telling the true Christmas story.

Christmas is about a God who cared enough about His lost creation to offer a rescue plan that would cost His One and Only Son His very life (John 3:16).

Christmas is about Jesus Christ who was obedient to the Father’s will to share His glory with once-sinful men (John 17:22).

Christmas is about the Father in heaven lavishing His love on us and adopting us into His family “that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

For all the ways that we identify Christmas, it always comes back to God’s great gift of salvation offered through a Baby in a manger with a cross on his back.

We Want to See Jesus

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The teacher asked the boy. “What are you drawing?” “I’m drawing a picture of Jesus,” he answered. “But nobody knows what Jesus looked like,” she said. “They will when I’m done!” he replied.

That’s been one of the naysayer’s most fervent arguments against the existence of God: no one has ever seen Him. How can we believe in someone we’ve never seen. Or have we? The Old Testament prophet declared, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:5). God revealed His glory in His Son, the man Jesus. Paul said, “He [Jesus] is the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). John wrote, “The Word [who was God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn: 1,1, 14).  Jesus is God and He revealed God to mankind.  But “nobody knows what Jesus looked like., so we still don’t know what God looks like. Ah, but we’re looking for the wrong thing. Jesus – and thus God – looks like glory. The Greek word for glory is doxa, meaning the awesome, brilliant light that radiates from God’s presence.

If you had been at the manger in Bethlehem two thousand years ago you would have seen it shining brightly. But you haven’t missed out on it entirely, it’s still visible today. No, it’s not in the candles in the church or the lights on your Christmas tree. It’s in the faces of every person who has bowed their heart and received Jesus as their Savior. Jesus – who is “the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12) transfers His light – His glory –  to those who believe that He is the Son of God – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being,” (Heb. 1:3). That is why Jesus said to His followers, “You [now] are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Something happens when we let go of our guilt and shame and sin and receive the forgiveness and love of God through Jesus – the Baby in the manger. The glory of God lights up our hearts and our faces. Beloved, can the world see Jesus through you?

Big News!

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . . “I bring you good news of great joy . . .” (Luke 1:8,9,10).

We love to make a big deal out of big news. The latest trends in parenting are to make a special announcement – complete with a professional photoshoot – that a baby is on the way and then have a “gender reveal” party to announce whether said baby is a boy or girl. Celebrity pregnancies and births become media frenzies, and when a royal baby is born the entire country celebrates. Yet when the King of the Universe came to earth as a human baby, the big announcement was surprisingly held out of the limelight. Oh, there was an important announcer but it wasn’t the High Priest, it was one of God’s angels. And it wasn’t told to the royal court nor the religious elite. Humble shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy.” There was a glorious choir – “a great host” of heavenly angels who sang the first Christmas carol. But the chief musicians of the temple weren’t there. No reporters or television crews covered this birth. The only witnesses were cows and sheep and perhaps a goat or two.

That is one aspect of the Christmas story that I truly love. God-in-flesh came in the most humble fashion, to the most humble parents, in the most humble place, and the big reveal was made to the most humble folks in Judea. I love that because it means that Jesus came for people like you and me – everyday folks with no important position or high standing or impressive title. He will receive the wealthy and the poor, the learned and the simple, the known and the unknown. Men and women, boys and girls, saints and sinners. All are welcome to worship at the manger.

Come to the stable Beloved – you won’t be turned away. There is room in that tiny space for the whole world.

Is This Any Way to Save the World?

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“For to us a child is born . . .”

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money, and more money to appoint a committee to study the matter.  If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and rioters and child abusers and abortionists and drug lords and put them all on a one-way trip to the moon.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would wake from the sleep of death to awaken the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave.

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians, and you and I could never do.  Jesus brought peace with God to the whole world – and that includes you.

Christmas Hope in a Manger

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Kids on Christmas morning hope for the newest toys and electronics under the tree. The soldier’s mother hopes for her son’s safe return for the holidays. Teachers hope to survive until Christmas break and students hope there will be no pop-tests before they reach the last day of class. Travelers hope for good weather and light traffic while law enforcement hopes for safe drivers and no accidents. The merchants hope for record sales and shoppers hope for great bargains. Christmas is synonymous with hope – but not for these reasons.
For the Jewish people, hope was in short supply. Their nation had long been under the control of others; at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans ruled over Jerusalem. The Jews had hoped for God’s Messiah to rescue them from oppression. They hoped for a leader who would overthrow the Romans and reestablish David’s throne and Israel’s independence. God would indeed send the Messiah to rescue His people from bondage and establish His Kingdom, but He would overthrow a greater enemy than the Romans. He would save more than just Israel and would rule over an everlasting Kingdom from David’s throne. He would not come in power with a sword in his hand and a crown on his head. He would come as a helpless baby with straw in His tiny fist and a crown of thorns in his future. He would not raise a scepter over Jerusalem but would be raised up on a cross outside the city gates. He would not overthrow Rome – He would overthrow death. Their hopes would be fulfilled – but not as they envisioned. It would exceed all they could ever ask or imagine.
Your hopes might be for something flashy and fun, or simple and quiet this Christmas. You may have hopes that can’t be put in a box with a bow. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and Joy.” In God’s good and loving hands, hope is a sure thing – a promise given and fulfilled in the same instant. It may not look what you thought it would be Beloved, but you have His Word that it will be full of life and Joy.