My Nativity Scene ain’t got no baby Jesus!
This past week we dug out the Christmas decorations and discovered a box that no one knew where it came from—nor would they claim it as theirs. The box contained a beautiful nativity scene, but there was one problem. There was no baby Jesus. The shepherds were there—one sweetly holding a lamb. The three wise men with their camels were magnificent (although the Bible doesn’t say there were three—there could have been 2 or 8 for all we know). Joseph and Mary were there along with a star, an angel, and assorted sheep, goats, and cattle. But no baby Jesus.
My nativity scene ain’t got no baby Jesus!
No one knows (or is willing to admit to knowing) what happened to baby Jesus. Did the dog chew him up? Did He get thrown in the trash along with the massive number of wrapping scraps, boxes, and bows? To this day it is a divine mystery. This got me to thinking – unfortunately. I will share my thoughts in a story with some imaginary dialog to make the story more interesting and to make a point later.
(Imaginary dialog starts here.)
“Look what I found.” “What is it?” “It’s a box!” “What’s in it?” “I don’t know.” “Do you think we should open it?” “Let’s.” (Suspenseful music grows in volume to a crescendo as they reach for the lid.) “Hey, wait! It’s taped shut. Anyone got a knife or scissors or something?” (Suspenseful music goes into a loop at crescendo for a couple of minutes creating immense tension while a knife is located and applied to the offending cellophane.) The tape is cut. Baited breaths are held for countless seconds. What could it be? The lid is lifted to reveal …… Some stuff wrapped in paper. “Hey, take the paper off so we can see what it is.”
Removing the paper reveals a nativity set. It was not one of those dollar store sets made of plastic about three inches tall. No, this set was magnificent. The figurines were at least 10” tall in hard resin. And hand-painted—by some poorly paid worker in an obscure third-world country no doubt. The details were sharp, and the colors were rich, unlike those cheap sets that are kind of monochrome.
Wait! There is a problem. This set ain’t got no baby Jesus. It took a minute to sink in. My nativity set ain’t got no baby Jesus.
(Imaginary conversation starts again.) “There ain’t no baby Jesus!” ‘What should we do?” “Let’s set it up.” “You can’t set it up, it aint’ got no baby Jesus.” “Well—maybe no one will notice.” “It ain’t got no baby Jesus.” “But it is a very nice nativity set. I mean, it is hand-painted resin and all. Is it really necessary to have a Baby Jesus?” “Look, we’ve got Mary and Joseph….and the wise men. (Aren’t the camels exquisite?) And all the other pieces are there. There’s the star, and animals, and shepherds.” “Does it really need a baby Jesus? I mean the set is very nice and no doubt expensive.” “You’re right, let’s set it up.”
The story is based in fact. We do have a nativity scene that ain’t got no baby Jesus. (We did not set it up.) The rest is (hopefully) a humorous attempt to prove a point. In fact, several humorous types presented themselves during proofreading. My ever-thoughtful auto-corrected changed one sentence from: “This issue popped up in my life this week,” to “This issue pooped up in my life this week.” (Now you will not be able to read that sentence latter without chuckling.) The moral of the story is that for all our Christian protestations, our baby Jesus is missing. We still have the other pieces, and perhaps (unconsciously) hope that no one notices what is missing.
Oh, I realize this is not true for you and me, but for countless others it is a fact. I also realize that pointing this out might offend some people. So be it. I am an equal opportunity offender.
Like the imaginary people in our story, some Christians have all the trappings of Christmas, but are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, I think Christmas decorations are great (sans Santa, who has nothing to do with a Christian Christmas). I have a nicely decorated tree, a poinsettia and a couple of funny snowman characters with winter gear. This year I was in more of a mood to decorate than ever before (except outdoor lights—I’m too old to hang outdoor lights—but I enjoy others who do).
My issue is that we often pay token respect to baby Jesus, but rarely is He the focus. Even if we read the Christmas story before opening presents—presents are still the focus. And it has always bothered me that Jesus is the only one who doesn’t get a present on His birthday. Everyone else gets presents. Try that with your kids.
(Imaginary dialog starts with some low music in the background.) “Happy Birthday Billy.” “Thanks dad, what did you get me for my birthday?” Well, you know Billy, YOU don’t get anything for your birthday. It’s the day we give presents to everyone else to honor your birthday.” “What?” “Yes, we got your sister as new kitchen play set. And your brother John got some Legos. Mom got some new gadgets for the kitchen, and we got your grandmother some compression socks for her varicose veins.” “Don’t I get anything for my birthday?” “You know Billy, that’s not how it works.”
That’s not how it works indeed. My Christmas ain’t got no baby Jesus.
Another thing that bugs me is how some Christians are quick to get offended if some cashier says, “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. I remember how this became a huge issue just a few years ago, with some people refusing to shop at a store that did not say Merry Christmas. Has Christianity developed its own political correctness when we demand people say the right phrase? Have we developed a Christian “Cancel Culture” that seeks to shame everyone who doesn’t toe our politically correct line? Has our stand for Christianity come down to refusing to buy presents (for everyone but Jesus) for holiday traditions that are not even Biblical (the traditions, not the story). Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to celebrating Christmas. I just wonder if—with all our lip-service to Jesus— our manger scenes ain’t got no baby Jesus?
This issue popped up in my life this week. Brooke and I sat down to send Christmas cards and a year-end newsletter to our mission supporters. I have several packages of really nice Christmas stationary. Nice paper. Foil Embossed. The only problem was it said, “Seasons Greetings,” not, “Merry Christmas.” Honestly, two thoughts went through my mind. The first was, “I wonder who will get offended because the stationary says, “Seasons Greetings?” The second was, “I wonder if people will think I am not being very spiritual?” Honest Abe. That is the peer pressure we have created. (Please note, you will never get a Christmas card from me with a Santa or other secular symbols on it. Gee, aren’t I spiritual?)
Have we lost Jesus in the hustle of shopping and clutter of wrapping? In the middle of putting up decorations and planning get-togethers? In our mixture of Christmas music that worships Jesus with one song and extols the virtues of Santa with the next? Is our concern more about what presents to buy? (Ever feel obligated to gift a gift? Enter ties, socks, and Avon.) And how much money can we afford to spend? Last year, holiday retail sales surpassed the trillion-dollar mark (yes, 12 zeros), with U.S. households spending an average of $1,536 during the season. Nearly 33 million Christmas trees were sold in 2019. That does not count the artificial trees that are purchased and used for several seasons.
Speaking for myself, I know it is easy to placate the nagging feeling in my Spirit about how I am missing the real “reason for the season” by throwing Jesus a few kudos, putting up a manger scene and saying, “Merry Christmas.” The challenge for me this year if to find a way to get out of my comfort zone—created by my holiday traditions— and find ways to minister to the lost in a significant way—which by the way—is why Jesus came in the first place.
What would happen if we cut back on Christmas spending and gave Jesus a gift? Didn’t He say, “When you do it to the least of these, you have done it to Me?” Could we celebrate the birthday of the Christ in the Spirit of the Christ who said, “When you give a feast, invite the ones who don’t have anything and can’t pay you back”? What would happen if Christian families found a way to bless a lost and dying world, as a way of celebrating the true spirit of Christmas? Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.”
I am not saying we should not celebrate Christmas. I am saying we need to put baby Jesus back in our nativity scenes. To make Jesus—despite all our protestations—the real center once again. I do not want to have to admit that my nativity scene ain’t got no baby Jesus.
Happy Hol….ER….Merry Christmas!