Every year as I unwrap my favorite Nativity from its storage box, I inevitably spend a few moments reflecting while I put all the figures in their proper place. Quite frankly, and somewhat surprisingly, it’s always a bit depressing as I remember how often Jesus remains stuck in the manger as merely a sentimental figure, how our culture has tamed the power of what God has done by rebranding Christmas as “the most wonderful time of the year,” and how too many people have reached the heartbreaking conclusion that Christmas has lost its power to bring desperately needed hope.
But I don’t remain depressed for long because the words of Matthew’s Gospel literally shout out, “This baby born to Mary is Immanuel, God with us.” And so I start rejoicing in this reality that seems utterly preposterous and impossible to explain, yet boldly proclaims that God has personally entered into the world in Jesus. Jesus whose birth we celebrate — but who also brings salvation to the world — promises to be with us until the end of the age as we follow him and is the Lord of all life.
There is only one way to begin to make any sense of this. God is so passionately in love with humanity God decided to risk plunging into the mess and muckiness of life to give us what we absolutely need but can never get on our own. This is not just church talk from a bishop. It is personal — deeply personal — because my soul longs for this kind of love in the midst of my own failings, questions and pain; I suspect yours does as well. And it is why I pray you will be filled with the true joy of Christmas that comes from experiencing that you do not have to find God and convince God to give you something — God has found you and offers you amazing grace!
I’ll continue to stop by my favorite Nativity every day for the next several weeks until I put it up for another year. But more importantly, I’ll let it remind me of the eternal truth that God’s Christmas gift to us comes in the most unlikely of ways; through an infant born of Mary, a carpenter from Galilee who was an itinerant preacher for just three years, and the Son of God who died on a cross for the entire world. I hope you’ll find some time to stop by your Nativity and be reminded, too.