By Roger Cook, Topeka Presbyterian Manor chaplain
All our lives we have seen nativity scenes. They are placed on Christmas cards, billboards, and some bold souls even present live nativity scenes during the Christmas season. Such scenes could become so familiar that we lose the impact of the symbolism. To avoid such a mistake, let’s take a fresh look at this familiar Christmas scene, and in doing so, we can experience something the wise men experienced: great joy!
Let us notice some of the particulars that make up the nativity scene, details that many overlook. For example, think of the star above the stable. The star represents the joy of following divine guidance. Believe it or not, the Bible tells us that God commissioned a particular star to serve as a kind of travel guide for a group of men from the East who had developed an interest in looking for the Christ child. Not only did that star lead these Easterners to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, but Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star led the wise men to the exact location of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. And when they finally located him, the Bible says they fell to their knees and worshiped Him and gave him costly gifts.
The record reveals clearly that the wise men greatly rejoiced over the fact that God had provided them with a remarkably accurate travel guide. Deep down they knew they would have never found the Christ without the star. The Christmas star, God’s gift of direction, served as a travel guide to those who were looking for the Savior. Today, it serves as a sign to us that God always provides direction and guidance for those who will earnestly seek Him. Throughout history, God has seen to it that those who diligently seek after Christ will find him.
The second symbol found in the nativity scene is the stable. The stable speaks of the joy of finding an understanding Savior. I can assure you the stable that Jesus was born in was not as sanitized as the one on most Christmas cards. It was like a thousand other stables, crowded with smelly animals, dark, damp and inhabited by at least one active rodent. It was an all-around rotten place to birth a baby.
A thinking person might ask: If God could commandeer a star to serve as a travel guide, why couldn’t He arrange a suite at the Bethlehem Hilton or at least a private room in the local hospital? The answer is that God could have, but He made a deliberate choice not to do so. Why? God chose the stable for His Son to be born in for a significant reason. You see, when God sent His only Son to live on the earth, he made a strategic decision not to shelter Him from the realities of this life. God wanted His Son to experience the rude and crude realities of life on planet earth. Think about it, Jesus’ first breath of air burned with the odor of animal urine. The first sounds He heard were the grunts of livestock. The stable serves as a permanent symbol of this fact: God sent Jesus to live in the real world so that real people could know that we have a Savior who truly understands our struggles and our needs.
There are many religions in the world today, but only Christianity can present a Savior who is both God and man. That is why we can say today: no one understands like Jesus. Do you feel tempted? He understands. Do you feel betrayed? He understands. Do you feel abused? He understands. We can take joy in finding a Savior who understands.
The third symbol found in the nativity scene was the manger. The manger speaks of the joy of finding God’s purpose for your life. Please don’t think of the manger as a first-century bassinet because it was a far cry from that. A manger was nothing more than a feed trough for cattle. But because God placed his Son in a manger, look what happened to an ordinary piece of farm furniture. All of a sudden it had a new dignity. The ordinary became the extraordinary – a feed trough for cattle became the cradle for a king.
In a spiritual sense, the manger is a symbol of what happens to an ordinary person when Jesus resides inside. It is a symbol of what has happened to millions of people around the world, and to many of you. We are just ordinary, average, run of the mill people who stand guilty before God because of sin. However, when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives, Jesus comes and begins to live within us. Because of this, there is a complete transformation that takes place.
Our sins are forgiven, and we receive eternal life. We start a real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and he gives a new joy and purpose for living. The joy that I am talking about is the “great joy” that only Christ can bring you. Will you allow Jesus to give you this kind of joy and purpose in life? He will take you as you are and make something beautiful out of your life.