I ran some errands yesterday and as I drove around I was treated to a lot of Christmas decorations propped outside people's houses. Some yards had nativity scenes. The white wooden silhouette nativities were popular. Often a big star hung suspended over the holy family. I saw big plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, occasionally with shepherds and sheep, a bale of hay, a manger constructed of old pallets, heck, a few big spenders even sprung for three wise men. Sometimes the nativity got placed beside an inflatable snowman or Santa. Ironically at times I discovered political signs prominently placed above the nativity scene. I started wondering: what do people see in that scene when they pass by?
I suspect that for some, it's a representation of the Christmas story. "Keeping the 'Christ' in Christmas."
For others it's a declaration of a religious or cultural affiliation.
But what do people really see in those human figures kneeling and standing and staring at a manger?
A holy family? A trio of refugees trying to make an honest census count? A few robed adult staring down at a barely-clothed baby?
A historic reference?
Maybe people look at the nativity and think John 3:16 or I John 4:10 or the narrative presented by Luke's gospel.
Do people see a symbol? A ritual? A message? A tradition? Hypocrisy?
My eye is always drawn to that baby.
Not Mary, not Joseph, not the donkey or the sheep or the angel or the shepherd. The baby.
That baby lying there so helpless and vulnerable. What could be weaker? What could be more humble? What could be more trusting than an infant? Without those grownups around that baby wouldn't last long, it needs to be held, fed and clothed.
God send a piece of Himself to earth like that to reach out to us personally.
True love requires trust and vulnerability and God offers us the most remarkable demonstration of those qualities through a baby. It blows my mind every time I consider it. He could've come to earth as a powerful adult, just showed up capable of taking care of Himself and been all, "Hey, I'm a messenger of love," but there's no sacrifice that way, is there?
I look at that baby and I see this amazing expression of trust and vulnerability and, mostly, love. And if God loves us enough to show up squirming, naked and powerless, reaching out both hands towards us, what does He want in return?
Trust. Vulnerability. He takes me as I am. Every day. No matter what. He takes care of me and loves me without reservation. No payment, no debt, no requirements, no prerequisites, I just reach out and hold on, and He keeps me safe and protected.
Do you see what I see when you look at the nativity?
God's incredible love.