December 2022 Connection

“A Nativity’s Purpose”

I have no doubt that, by the time you’re reading this, nativity scenes will be set out on front lawns, placed on fireplace mantles, and just about anywhere else Christmas decorations find themselves. In fact, even as I’m writing this article in mid-November, I’ve already spotted some nativity scenes while out and about
(we’ll leave the “it’s too soon for Christmas” argument for another time). We all know what we’ll find in a nativity scene: Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, an angel, 3 magi/kings/wisemen, perhaps some sheep and a camel, and of course Jesus.
Now, not to be a bah humbug, but it’s probably worth noting that we don’t find that exact nativity when we look in scripture. I know, I know…I’ve ruined Christmas! But, let’s be honest. When we look at the Gospels, we only find the Christmas story in two of them: Matthew and Luke. Luke tells us about the birth,
the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in the nearby countryside, and then…well, that’s about it. Matthew is kind enough to include the visit of the magi, but says nothing about shepherds. So, how did we arrive at our favorite nativity scenes at Christmas time? We simply bring the two Gospels – Matthew
and Luke – together and provide a few embellishments. Anything wrong with this? Not at all! Is it accurate? Well…not really.
You see, we still have the timeline to deal with. Luke’s shepherds are nearby, and while we don’t know how quickly they ran to the manger, we get the sense that it was pretty soon after Jesus was born. Jesus probably still had that newborn baby glow, and Mary and Joseph were still probably trying to figure out
how they might ever sleep again. Coincidently, probably not the best time for shepherds and sheep to show up, but hey! It could always be worse, right!? But, how about Matthew’s magi. Speculation is that they (not necessarily three of them, by the way) probably arrived a good bit after Jesus birth. Herod’s order to kill all children in the region 2 years old and younger (Matthew 2:16) suggests that Jesus may have been as old as a toddler by the time the magi greeted him and the holy family. Frankincense, gold and myrrh – every toddler’s favorite gifts!
Now, before you’re tempted to call for my retraction of this nativity heresy, or begin demanding the accuracy of every nativity scene you come across, let me offer this assurance. The accuracy and historicity of a nativity is not and has never been the main point of the Christmas decoration. I’d argue that the nativity scenes we find at Christmastime are intended to remind us of something far more important than historical accuracy and fact. They’re there to remind us that people showed up. People showed up to the manger, not just to see what had happened, but to prophecy God’s truth, once again, to the holy family. The magi, the shepherds –even the sheep, camels and others – showed up at the manger in order to proclaim to Mary and Joseph that their child was truly the incarnation of God. Now, certainly they already knew this, right!? Gabriel told Mary as much, and Joseph had a dream during which he was similarly informed. So why the messengers? I believe that they came with such a witness to the earthly
parents of Jesus because for the next 30 years or so, Mary and Joseph would be tasked with raising this
infant child to be the Son of God. They’d teach him how to pray, how to love, how to worship, and how to
care for neighbor. They’d model forgiveness for him, and remind him that he is loved. Could it be that
Mary and Joseph simply needed some encouragement, and so God sent these unlikely prophets to them
in order to confirm a divine truth? I suspect that’s the case!
This Advent, we prepare our hearts to journey toward the manger where we know what we’ll find! We’ve
rehearsed this journey for generations, and so we know what will be there. Though, don’t we still need
prophets of some sort to announce and witness to us what we’ve come across? To declare to us the full
divinity of the child born on Christmas? Don’t we need to, not only see Jesus, but hear the reminder that
he came to us as Emmanuel, God with us, that we might discover love, grace, and new life?
This Advent and Christmas, my prayer is that we might be that witness for one another and that we might
share that same confirmation with others who need to hear it. This Advent and Christmastime, consider
these questions: for whom can you be shepherd, magi, or angel? And who can be that for you?
Pastor Brian
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