Summary: Is Christ in a manger a decoration; or is He Lord of your life?

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 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.”

We are all familiar with the Christmas story—or are we? Every Nativity Tableau I have ever witnessed seems confused about the biblical account. These crèche scenes make the biblical account into a strange fiction. In fact, the birth of Christ has become a battleground that is fought out in courts and municipal councils each year. And not all the attention is good!

News accounts this week provide a review of the dismal conflict that continues each year between those who want to celebrate Christmas, but without the honoree, and those who want to celebrate by setting up a crèche. Usually, the battles have been fought in courtrooms. This year, there seem to be more battles taking place in even more public forums. In Lansing, Michigan, competing “holiday” tableaus have been erected on the Michigan Capital grounds. State Senator Rick Jones erected a Nativity scene, more in protest against what the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple calls a “Snaketivity Scene.” [2] This is similar to the fight that is taking place in Tallahassee, Florida [3] where a similar group is expressing its rights to celebrate the Christmas Season in an unorthodox manner. And near Cincinnati, Ohio, a man is stirring controversy by erecting a zombie tableau in his front yard. [4]

Contemplating this monotonous repetition, I recalled a commentary by Dr. Jim Denison that startled me. [5] He challenged how we looked at the inaccurate manger scenes that have become so essential to Christmas for many people. It isn’t just that they are wrong—the magi didn’t arrive for at least two years after the birth of the Christ. It was something else.

We manage to keep Jesus boxed up for eleven months, and then we set him out for a few weeks before we put him back in his box for another year. Dr. Denison continues by noting, “When asked if Christmas is primarily a religious holiday, only 39 percent of young adults in America agree. When asked what they're looking forward to during the holidays, 69 percent of us point to time with family and friends; only 11 percent cite religious reflection and services. We will spend $781 billion on Christmas presents this month. An observer could be forgiven for thinking Christmas is more about us than it is about Christ.” Our situation here in Canada isn’t much different. Despite attesting that Christmas is a religious holiday, for most Canadians, Christmas will focus far more on family and self than on worship.

How do we change this situation? How do we point our culture to the reason for the season? We will not do this with noisy marches, or with petitions to parliaments or legislatures, or with repetitive battles in sterile courtrooms. If we have any hope of transforming the season, it must begin with each of us.

Perhaps we would benefit from remembering a portion of the account that I didn’t read. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” [LUKE 2:8-18].

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