What is the best and most perfect image for this Season of Christmas? Let’s look at a few of those images.
The Christmas Tree. Now that’s what ought to speak into the hearts of people. Right? For many, it’s all about “The Tree”!
The Christmas Lights. Ah, there’s nothing like loading up family and friends and driving through neighborhoods to see all the pretty lights.
Santa Claus! Oh most definitely YES! Taking the kids and waiting in line so they can sit on Santa’s lap and allow that narcissistic personality out with a WISH LIST which more often than not, is a WANT LIST.
Christmas Presents! Now we have it. We wait all year-long to receive presents! Presents that we have “earned” because we have been on Santa’s “Nice” list. Yeah, right! (Sorry for the cynicism.)
But for many, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, it’s the Manger Scene! Manger scenes are nice and our images of them are always clean and neat. Have you ever noticed that the images of that first Christmas are always neat and clean? I wonder, if those who have that image have actually stepped into a barn and carefully looked at a well used Feed Trough? To any Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter who might actually be reading this, you do know that a manger is a feed trough, don’t you?
One of my deepest concerns for those who occupy the pews, is that we have sanitized the Christmas Story to make it neater and cleaner, and thus, have sterilized this powerful saga and made it impotent. Nothing was neat about that first Christmas. Mary is pregnant, out-of-wedlock pregnant! Joseph hears her insist that she’s a virgin (now that goes against what his Dad told him about the birds and the bees) and that this child in her womb is the Son of God. God just doesn’t become human in Joseph’s theological world. Rome decrees a census and taxation and now they must journey, with a very pregnant wife, to Bethlehem. They get there but all the rooms are filled so they go to that barn. Then there’s that rough and rowdy band of shepherds who show up, unannounced. Then there’s those Wise Men who upset Herod and all of Jerusalem. Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus have to escape to Egypt, where by the way, their ancestors were slaves. And the families of Bethlehem watch in horror as Herod has their toddlers and babies slaughtered. Yeah, that is a real “neat and clean” story.
But allow me to ask you a question: What about Jesus? I mean, just before He disappeared from the Throne Room of Heaven to become a fertilized embryo, what was HIS image of the Christmas Saga? Which of these two images do you think Jesus had? Your answer will reflect what you believe in your heart, that either God loves you, or, that God’s loves you enough to make you whole.
The Manger or the Cross? One speaks to our wants, the other speaks to our deepest need. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the last image Jesus saw before leaving Eternity to enter into time was that Cross. Nothing was neat about His arrival into time, and nothing was neat about His exit from time. To see an image of Jesus on the Cross without the wounds and the blood (now that’s a “neat” image of the cross, but not true!) is to do the same thing to the Easter Story that many have done to the Christmas Story–it’s sanitized, and impotent. It a useless, feeble, futile story and not the Saga of God’s love for us messed up human beings who are supposed to bear the image of our Creator.
Jesus never said, “Hey, if you want to follow me, pick up that neat and pristine manger and remember that beautiful baby.” No, He never said that. What He said is this: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NLT) As messy as that barn and feed trough were that night, the Cross was even messier.
Yes, go visit that feed trough covered in animal slobber and remember that this Baby ruled in Heaven and created great beauty out of nothing but chaos. Also remember He continues to grow up. He worked with his earthly Dad, Joseph, and probably made other “mangers”, chairs, tables, and platters. But His best work with wood wasn’t in that Carpenter’s Shop. NO! His best work with wood came later as He was suspended between Creation and the Creator and became The Sinner who bore our sins and suffered our punishment.
So as you put out your “Nativity Scene”, or go to see a church present a “live Nativity Scene”, remember; remember that the image Jesus had in His heart the instant before leaving Heaven for Mary’s womb, the image He carried in His Heart and Mind as He walked this earth as one of us, the image He had that night in the Garden of Gethsemane–and it was The Cross. He had that image because He loves you and I enough to be placed in that animal slobber covered feed trough so that He could then be stretched out on that Cross, suspended between Creation and Creator, to be treated as THE Sinner, THE Sinner that we are.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!