While decorating for Christmas this year, I set up our ceramic nativity set and surrounded it with fake straw. This set is special to me because it was made by my father some 15 years ago.
Most of his life, Daddy was a carpenter, but in his later years, he did some ceramic work as a hobby, and he made identical sets for all four of his children.
As a child, my favorite part of preparing for Christmas was arranging the nativity set underneath the tree. That was a more humble set, made of heavy cardboard as I recall, and probably one my parents got when they were first married. No telling what became of that nativity, but it probably wore out or perhaps burned when they had a kitchen fire that spread through the attic of their house.
What makes nativity sets so special at Christmas, other than that it is a representation of Jesus’ birth?
It’s hard for us to imagine any baby being laid in an animal feed trough. The most basic–and dirty–setting you can imagine. Our instinct is to protect babies from dirt and disease, to wrap them in soft, clean blankets and cushion them in a cradle–preferably one that rocks. Yet there, among the animals–probably in a cave converted to a stable–is the setting God chose for His Son to begin His life on Earth.
Jesus left the royal palaces and streets of gold of Heaven and entered the world in a stable, slept on straw in a manger, perhaps watched over by cattle and donkeys. The Stable reminds us of the choice He made to reach us so He could show us how much He loves us.
He showed us that love again through his death and resurrection. The borrowed tomb was also likely carved out of a rock–another cave. After Jesus died on the cross, He could have appeared to the disciples without the drama of rolling away the stone. But the stone revealed the Empty Tomb. And the empty tomb forever became a symbol and a reminder that our Lord is alive.
We do not worship a dead man, a carved image, or a ceramic baby. We worship the living Jesus. “When the right time came, God sent his Son into the world. A woman gave birth to him…so that we would be adopted as his children” (Gal 4:4-5, GW).
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the Savior who became a baby so that we could become children of God. Both the Stable and the Empty Tomb give us reason to rejoice.