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.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

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.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds – and to You.

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I remember an evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival.  He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen.  They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars.  They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit.  After speaking to him of the need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?”  Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television, and movie star. 

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day.  People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low.  Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the Passover sacrifice.  Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling, and demeaning.  But they were humble because of their lowly position.  These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith. 

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15).  They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true.  And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved?  Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true?  Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy.  Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

True Seekers

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You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on judgment day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” He replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way for those who would accept it and seek this blessed Child. Luke’s account includes the angel who told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). They were determined to follow the evidence that God has given to them.

Matthew records literal heavenly proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary, and the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

The difference between Bertrand Russell and the shepherds and wise men and those who believe is that they want to find God. He receives all who seek Him with a heart to believe. Remember what He said – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. (Jeremiah 29:13). Beloved, what – or Whom – are you seeking this Christmas?

Mary’s Little Baby Boy

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To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Their eyes are closed to the world; mouth in soft repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise for all mankind, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. He cried like other babies. He needed to be fed and changed like other babies. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.

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.

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds not Kings

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I remember an old evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival. He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen. They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars. They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit. After speaking to him of his need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?” Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television and movie star.

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day. People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith – which is this week’s Advent focus. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low. Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the sacrifices at the Temple, especially the Passover sacrifice. Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling and demeaning. But they were humble because of their lowly position. These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith.

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15). They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true. And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved? Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true? Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy. Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.