You won’t look at a Nativity Scene the same way after reading this article. Middle School Bible Teacher and Lacrosse Coach, Rev. Adam Bond, shares enlightening, prophetic details from the Christmas story that may change your heart’s posture this Christmas season.
‘Tis the season!
Every year around this time, our neighborhoods and cities begin to fill with the lights, the sights and the sounds of the holiday season. Evergreen trees and sleigh bells and Santa Claus and store-wide savings all seem to arrive earlier and earlier each year, pointing us to the inevitable culmination on December 25.
For Christians, this can come with a mixed stocking of emotions.
On one hand, we are slowly filled with anticipation over Advent, straining forward towards the day in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus and all that comes with Him. On the other hand, the secularization, the commercialization, the ring and sting of, “Happy Holidays!” in the air that seems to diminish all that is holy to us, threatens to burst the birthday balloons before we can eat our cake.
Thankfully, we do occasionally find glimpses of the real reason for the season – perhaps not in the retail stores and the office buildings, but in the yards of our neighbors and the mantles of our homes.
In these few places, we sometimes find the Nativity Scene – that serene tableau of the most Holy Night, with Jesus Himself at the center in His manger, surrounded by His mother and father, three kings and the odd lamb or two.
But, while many of us breathe a sigh of contentment when we see the Nativity Scene, few stop to consider the actual story it tells. Even fewer wonder if what we rely upon to represent the true story of Christmas is actually telling that truth.
To solve this problem, we must go back to the source of the story.
In Luke chapter 2, the most talked about passage in all of Scripture, we read in verse 7,
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (ESV)
Then, in Matthew chapter 2:1-2 and 10-11 we see:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him . . . When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (ESV)
From these verses come all the images and songs and traditions we’ve come to rely upon to retell the Christmas story from generation to generation. But like the children’s game of telephone, if we’re not careful, we can lose some of the details along the way, and end up inadvertently distorting the story so much that we miss the most important parts that point to something greater.
if we’re not careful, we can lose some of the details along the way, and end up inadvertently distorting the story so much that we miss the most important parts that point to something greater.
Surprising and Symbolic Facts
In context, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, which is south of Jerusalem. In this harsh desert region, trees were scarce, and thus wood as a building material was extremely rare. More often than not, everyday items were fashioned out of stone, not wood. In Bethlehem, animals would have either been kept in a separate room in the owner’s home (made of stone!), or in one of the innumerable shallow caves hewn into the hilly countryside.
Either way, it is more accurate to say that Jesus was born in a cave, not in a wooden stable. The Nativity Scene depicts a wooden manger, but mangers in this day and region were typically made of, yes you guessed it, stone. Before she laid Jesus down, Mary, “wrapped Him in swaddling cloth…” Swaddling cloth was a type of linen sheet, most often used to wrap the bodies of the deceased in preparation for burial.
Swaddling cloth was a type of linen sheet, most often used to wrap the bodies of the deceased in preparation for burial.
Are you beginning to see it? Let’s include one more textual reference to complete the picture.
When the Magi arrived, they offered Jesus gifts: gold, of course, is an extremely valuable precious metal. In those days, only the wealthiest possessed it – typically kings. (After all, in Matt 2:2, the Magi said they were looking for a King.) Now frankincense and myrrh: both are also typically expensive. Their uses were many, but in context, one specific use for each should get our attention: frankincense covering up the putrid smell of sacrifice and myrrh serving as an embalming material.
So here is the true story of Christmas, here’s what the real Nativity Scene looks like according to the Scriptures: Jesus born into the world as a baby, wrapped in funeral linens, laid on a stone in a cave, surrounded by the riches of a King, the fragrant smells of sacrifice, and embalming material.
Responding to the Greatest Gift
Can you see it? Can you imagine it in your mind?
Jesus’ birth is actually a graphic picture of His sacrificial, substitutionary death!
Everything we see in the scene of Jesus’ birth is also present in the scene of His burial. After having worn a crown of thorns and called the “King of the Jews”, he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a cave along with spices and myrrh!
“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:39-42, ESV)
The true story of Christmas tells us that Jesus, God in the flesh, was the only person in history who was born to die. So Christmas is a time when we celebrate that God, in His immeasurable Grace, has given to us His very best gift – His own Son’s life – so that while sin may have disrupted our destiny as those who would be born to live in eternity with Him, we would still have that privilege.
The true story of Christmas tells us that Jesus, God in the flesh, was the only person in history who was born to die.
The Magi understood this, and their seeking of this King demonstrates for us how we also ought to respond. The best way to celebrate Christmas this year, and every year, is to contemplate how we can, “open our treasures,” and give to God the very best of what we have.
So what is that for you? Are you a mom? A businessman? An artist? A leader of people? May you be encouraged to take some time this Christmas season to identify what it is that represents your very best, and then find new ways of giving those gifts to God throughout the year in celebration of this most wonderful gift He offers you in Jesus: the gift of life everlasting in His glorious and loving Presence!
take some time this Christmas season to identify what it is that represents your very best,
After years of pastoral ministry in South Florida, Rev. Adam Bond is in his eleventh year serving as the director of lacrosse at CCA, and in his ninth year teaching 6th grade Bible. His passion is seeing young people learn how to embody and live out the Christian faith.