I think, before your HOA allows you to put up a Christmas Nativity set in your yard, there should be a mandatory refresher course on who, exactly, should be included in the scene. Our neighbors a couple of streets over (“bless their hearts”), they’re trying so hard. They’ve got Mary, Joseph, little baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, cows, goats, alpacas, garden gnomes, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, Santa Clause, and an 8 ft. blow up Snoopy, all gathered together around the manger. And they forgot to take down some of their Halloween decorations, so their roof is lined in orange lights and instead of angels sweetly singing o’er the plains, they’ve got skeletons, goblins and ghosts hanging from the Live Oak. It’s like the Wonderful Life Nightmare Before Charlie Brown Christmas Nativity. All they’re missing are a couple of Grimlins, Macaulay Culkin, and a Red Rider BB Gun, and the set would be complete.
Did you notice, in John’s Gospel, when he writes about the birth narrative he does not mention Jesus’s nativity at all? Instead, he focuses on your nativity, and mine. “Nativity” just means the circumstances surrounding someone’s birth. Matthew and Luke get pretty specific on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s physical birth, but John skips it altogether. Instead of writing about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s physical birth, John writes about the circumstances surrounding our spiritual birth.
“But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:12-13). According to John, the glory of Christmas is in the One and Only Son from the Father who became the Son of Man (v.14), but the nativity of Christmas is in the many sons and daughters of men who may now become sons and daughters of God.
The Son of God became the Son of Man so that children of men might become children of God.
Other gifts given and received this Christmas will change what you possess. But this gift given, when received, changes who you are. Those who receive the gift of salvation in Jesus are born into the family of the Heavenly Father: once a slave to sin, now a child of God.
So, who should be in that nativity set, exactly? Surely Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus. Probably a couple shepherds. Maybe an angel and a few barn animals. After that it gets a little dicey. But the set is not complete, according to John’s Gospel, without you. You should be there, marveling at the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. You should be there not just giving gifts to the King of Kings, like the wise men of old, but receiving the gift of light and life from him. You should always see yourself in the nativity of the Christ. After all, that’s the whole reason Jesus came.
For the Christian, the Christmas nativity set should be a reminder not only of Jesus’s physical birth, but of our spiritual birth as well. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that children of men might become children of God.
Grace and Peace,