Summary: God has revealed in the Christmas story a powerful "sign" of the swaddling clothes and manger which has great spiritual significance, but it has been concealed by our cultural depictions of the Nativity Scene.
A “Sign”? : A New View of the Nativity Scene
Luke 2: 1-19
As we read the Christmas story in Luke 2: 1-19, it is such a familiar passage that it is easy to just blow through it without deeply considering about it. Year after year, Christmas after Christmas, we have heard this passage quoted so many times we can just about cite it verbatim. The biblical Christmas story becomes so often repeated that we assume we already know the story and fail to ask questions and dig deeper into some of the rich insights that God would have for us. We sometimes settle for sameness rather than searching out the many mysteries that the mind of God has for us.
But, let’s do something different this year. Let’s read it afresh and anew, as if we were reading for the first time without all the assumptions we usually have when we come to these verses.
[Read Luke 2:1-19; KJV]
Christmas Under Attack
It’s that time again for the annual anti-Nativity scene onslaught. You probably have heard how a judge struck down the annual Christmas displays in Santa Monica due to some atheist protestors. Each year Christmas is under attack by proponents of the purported “separation of church and state.” If we are to believe these secular extremists, Americans are supposed to celebrate the multicultural “diversity” of all religious and belief systems, EXCEPT Christianity.
Consequently, this social and political controversy has lead to the banishment of public displays of the Nativity scene. They have been banned as a uniquely Christian icon, and this restriction has been rationalized that they might be offensive to other religions in society.
One adversary said it was because “little kids seeing a manger display just might develop a curiosity about this baby Jesus.” (1) Whoa! ... How dangerous! Indeed, liberal politics has been the driving force behind the crusade against Christmas. (2)
New York City public schools banned Nativity scenes, while allowing other religious symbols. In a lawsuit brought against them by the Thomas More Law Center, Richard Thompson, the chief counsel stated,
“When you disallow the Nativity scene by calling it religious and allow other symbols categorized as religious, then you are underlying the fact [that] it becomes a less favorable religion…[and it] shows a callous indifference and hostility towards Christians during one of their holiest seasons…. This policy relegates Christians to second class citizens.” (3)
Indeed, our present post-modern culture is attempting to dismiss Christianity as a non-relevant and extremist religion.
A resident of Miami-Dade County, Florida noted that a nativity scene had been excluded from the prominent holiday display at a public building, while Jewish and Kwanzaa symbols were present. She inquired and was informed that only “non-religious seasonal symbols were permitted” and private individuals had donated the other icons. (4) When she offered to provide a nativity display at her own expense, she was declined because “a Christmas display would violate the ‘separation between church and state.” (5) What an irony! Other religious symbols are allowed, but the supposed “separation between church and state” (which is not in the Constitution) forbids Christian Nativity scenes.
Since society has become so adamant in restricting Nativity scenes, we should revisit what is so powerful about the scene of Christ’s birth that the secular culture is so adverse to them.
Why would Nativity scenes be particularly attacked? Why would our culture be so threatened by Nativity scenes to try to ban them? It is because Nativity scenes depict the second most powerful Christian scene – the incarnation that God “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The first most powerful Christian symbol of course is the cross.
But, it is also because there are powerful pictures God has embedded in the Nativity scene, and the enemy knows this. He wants to deceive our culture away from the deeper significance God would have us see in the birth of Christ. Our culture has concealed from us what God has revealed in the mystery of Christmas.
When we examine the Nativity scene more deeply, we find that the scene of Christ’s birth has been changed, and these alterations which typically depict Christ’s birth distract us away from the original scene. These changes, even done by religious traditions, have deceived us away from the important and significant spiritual truths God has embedded in the Nativity scene.
So, while society wishes to restrict our Christian portrayals of Christmas, instead we need to unveil the mysteries embedded in the biblical Christmas story which would point others toward the True Purpose of Christmas- that Jesus is our Reason for the Season. When we see the spiritual symbolism and significance that God has provided in this sign of Christmas, our hearts will awaken to the richness God has used in the very simple elements of swaddling clothes and the manger to demonstrate His power … and plan.