This season has a very distinctive feel to it. The sparkling lights, the wreaths, the fireside scenes on greeting cards, the brightly decorated wrapping paper. The part that catches my attention the most, however, are the nativity scenes. This tradition was one of my favorites as a kid, unwrapping each character carefully and placing them on the mantel over the fireplace at home. Although the trappings of this season are special and make for precious memories, we can remember as Christians that the story of Jesus’ birth isn’t just a pleasant tale to enhance the Christmas feel. Jesus’ birth and life was a real rescue mission to Planet Earth that involved pain and incredibly high stakes. The Messiah was promised all the way back in Genesis 3:15 right after humanity disobeyed God and fell in the Garden of Eden. Sin infected the planet because of Adam and Eve’s first trespass and now we’re living with the results. But a Rescuer was promised. In speaking to the serpent who had tempted Adam and Eve into sin, God said, “And I will put enmity between three and the woman, and between they seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Notice that this rescuer would get bruised. He wasn’t going to have a painless, easy ride through this world before leaving once again for heaven. He would suffer terribly. That’s the big difference between humans and Jesus. We naturally want to wrangle our circumstances to suit our own comforts and ambitions. We see this all around us. Electrical lights; high efficiency furnaces; entertainment systems; gadgets that help us cook, clean, schedule, work, and connect more efficiently; vehicles that transport us many miles in a matter of hours. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but they show how tech-savvy we are when it comes to comfort and convenience. Jesus, however, humbly submitted to a life of hardship, poverty, and pain in order to save us. “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6, 7) Even as a baby, Jesus was sacrificing comfort for the mission He had as God’s Son.
This season gives us plenty of stable and manger scenes with the little baby Jesus resting peacefully in the hay with a pleasant smile and a warm light glowing around him. I enjoy these pictures. But the simple truth is that they present a sanitized version of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came from the womb, sticky, dirty, screaming as any child does. He wasn’t wrapped in a velvety white blanket. All they had were rough, burlap cloths. He was shivering in a drafty feeding trough in the middle of the night crying his lungs out. It was a hard, raw, uncomfortable scene, but also a much more beautiful scene—beautiful because Jesus submitted to these hardships as the King of the Universe for you and me. He loves us so much that He was willing to trade the unfathomable glories of heaven for this dark, distraught world so he could buy us back. The next time you look at a manger scene, remember how much Jesus gave up in coming to this cold earth to give us a second chance. Remember how much He loves and cherishes you as His dear child.