Gifts of the Nativity
As the nondescript cardboard box is handed down from the attic, I treat it with special care. It’s a little torn and faded after all these years. Opening the flaps, a musty mound of yellowed paper greets us again this Christmas season. Gently, almost reverently, we lift the items from the box and place the splintery wooden stable on the table in our family room. This is the nativity scene of my childhood - the one I grew up opening with my sister year after year. It now lives in my home since my parents have moved on to heaven. And it holds a place in my heart that is hard to put into words.
Last year, as we opened each crinkly paper-wrapped character, I was struck anew by what was given at Christmas. Jesus – the greatest Gift of all time. He gave all for me, for you, for us. In the fullness of time, He came. This had been agreed on by the Trinity when man was created way back in Genesis. God knew it would be necessary for Jesus to take on human flesh and step decisively toward the cross. Why?
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:28 NLT
He gave Himself as a ransom - a payment made for the release of a prisoner. You see, God had created us to enjoy a beautiful relationship with Him where we would walk together with Him throughout life. But sin broke that connection by distancing us from Him. As a good and loving Father, He couldn’t tolerate leaving things that way, so He gave Jesus to restore that relationship with His children. A ransom. By far the most important gift ever given.
Unwrapping each character in the scene last year I realized that the call to “give” reverberates throughout the Christmas story. Consider what it cost each individual to be a part of the Nativity...
Mary – she gave her body.
“Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God.’...Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’”
Luke 1:34-35, 38 NLT
For Mary, saying “yes” to this meant giving her body to carry this Messiah-baby, and then caring for Him with her hands and her heart throughout the years ahead. She poured herself out physically. Sometimes we are called on to give of ourselves in this same way. We give our bodies to care for our children, spouses, and parents. It can exhaust us at times as we become depleted physically, pouring out for those around us. We, too, give up our bodies.
Joseph was also called on to give; he gave up his dignity. How many sideways glances and raised eyebrows did he have to endure as he walked with his arm around his pregnant fiancé? He had considered opting out of this assignment. But
“while he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name Him Jesus – ‘God saves’ – because He will save His people from their sins.’”
Matthew 1:20-23 MSG
Joseph was willing to be misunderstood and shamed if it meant doing what the Lord had asked him to do. Are we willing to do the same? Sometimes following the Lord’s call means giving up our dignity, stepping out, and doing something out of the ordinary.
When we widen our focus and consider the inn keeper we first think “well, he didn’t do much.” But give it a little more thought. Bethlehem was bursting at the seams with travelers who had come for the census and, through no fault of his own, the innkeeper had no lodging to offer this couple. It would’ve felt like an embarrassingly imperfect gift, yet when he saw Mary laboring at his door, he offered it anyway, “You can stay in my stable.” (Luke 2:7) The alternative would have been far worse, as Mary would have been forced to deliver this child in public; at least the stable provided privacy. Sometimes we are reticent to share our less-than-perfect gifts when they feel so small and insufficient. But they are better than the alternative of doing nothing. Even “imperfect” gifts can convey blessings when offered in love and compassion.
The shepherds are key characters in our Nativity scene and they too gave in response to what they experienced.
“The shepherds let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!”
Luke 2:20 MSG
Overwhelmed with what they had witnessed, the shepherds gave an offering of worship. But that’s not all.
“They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed.”
Luke 2:18 MSG
Their worship exploded into witness. Not only did they use their words to praise the Lord for the miracle they had seen, but they also used their words to share the wonder with anyone who would listen! And we can do the same. We come on a Sunday to engage in worship and wonder over the beauty of God’s story unfolding before us. And we carry that amazing message into our community, using our words to give the hope of Jesus to those we rub shoulders with.
Lastly, let’s turn our gaze to the wise men in the Nativity scene. As you unwrap the crinkly paper and see them in their richly colored robes holding their glimmering gifts, think about what they gave.
“They opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Luke 2:11b NLT
What extravagant presents for a baby! These gifts had symbolic meaning to be sure but, practically speaking, what did Mary and Joseph do with these gifts? The following verses give us a hint.
“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and His mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.’”
Luke 2:13 NLT
The wise men provided ahead of the need without knowing what these riches would be used for. These extravagant gifts supplied Mary and Joseph with the funds to be able to escape Herod’s murderous plot and to keep Jesus alive! The call here is for us to listen for the Lord’s voice. Is He asking you to give extravagantly out of your “riches” to anyone? Maybe you don’t understand how your gift will help, but if the Lord is stirring in you to give generously, follow that nudge.
So the challenge for us is to follow the example of those in the Nativity story this year. Before you close this blog today, ask the Lord where He might be inviting you to give...
Your body Your dignity An imperfect gift Your worship Your words An extravagant gift
Lord, this Christmas season let us hear Your voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” Amen.