Of all the Christmas decorations out there, Nativity scenes are my absolute favorite.
I currently own six different nativity sets, and yet every year when Christmas decorations start to appear in the stores, I have the urge to run out and buy another one or two. Jon doesn’t understand my desire to fill my house with all the beautiful Nativity scenes. I have too many as it is because I don’t have enough space to display all of the ones I own. Yet a part of me wonders if a girl can own too many Christmas Nativity sets.
As I decorated my house for Christmas and displayed my beautiful Nativities, I thought about how my love for Nativity sets started when I was a young girl, as well as some of the beautiful Christmas lessons I’ve learned from setting up Nativity scenes.
These are three of my favorite Nativity stories.
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When I was a little girl, I knew the Christmas season had arrived when my mother pulled out the Nativity set.
She always got it out in early December. Sometimes we wouldn’t decorate a tree until it was almost Christmas, but the Nativity set was put out early in the season to remind us of the real story of Christmas.
My brother and sister and I played for hours with the Nativity. Ours was made from a very study plastic. It was not cheaply made nor did it look cheap, but because it was so sturdy it was also very kid friendly. Nothing could be easily broken on it — at least not until we were all grown and Brooke’s dog got hold of some of the shepherds and maybe a wise man or two.
Each of us had our own way of playing with the Nativity.
I liked to arrange all the characters so that it covered the entire coffee table. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were settled into the wooden barn. The cow and the donkey were either in the creche or nearby. Not too far off to one side were the shepherds and their sheep, while a great distance off to the other side were the wise men with their camels.
Unfortunately, I always had a big dilemma over where to place the angels. There were two of them: one kneeling and one that was standing. I typically put one angel on a little flat section of barn roof, but should it be the kneeling angel or the standing one? Once I made that critical decision, then there was the problem of where to put the other angel. Should it be inside the barn worshipping Jesus or be near the shepherds bringing them news of great joy? This problem drove my Type-A brain crazy every single Christmas of my childhood.
I don’t really recall exactly how my brother Reid played with the Nativity. He probably arranged it so that the shepherds were fighting with the wise men or some other such silly boy nonsense. Or maybe he included extra characters in the scene: Star Wars and G. I. Joe figures guarding the baby or wise men arriving on the scene riding in tiny Matchbox cars. Probably he just spent time heckling me and Brooke over how we set up the Nativity scene and informing us that we did it all wrong.
But Brooke … well, I never will forget how she played with our Nativity set.
She worked hard, crowding all the characters right up into the barn. The pieces were literally crammed inside: shepherds stuffed next to wise men, animals doing handstands in the back corners. It was as if her goal was to get everyone as close to the infant Jesus as possible.
As a child, I never truly appreciated my sister’s way of acting out the Christmas story. I would come along behind her and put a little space between the shepherds and the wise men. However, now that I’m an adult and a parent, I have to admit I’m impressed by my sister’s innate understanding of the real meaning of Christmas.
Lesson 1: Get as close to the babe in the manger as possible.
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Three years ago, my son Nathan bought me a Nativity set to add to my collection.
It was a pretty glass set, so small and sweet. He found it in a box of Christmas items at the antique store where he worked part-time, and purchased it for my birthday. His boss gave him a pretty good deal on it, and after I opened it I understood why.
Do you see the problem?
This nativity is actually the parts and pieces from several incomplete versions of the same nativity set that have been combined into one very inaccurate nativty. The absurd allotment of characters includes two Marys, three Josephs, and six Wise Men. The shepherds and angels are completely missing altogether.
I have to admit that I laughed the first time I saw it. It is just so crazy!
Every year when I pull it out from the box, I still laugh. And the giggles continue as I put the extra Mary and two of the Josephs on shepherd duty. Usually by the time I collect the Wise Men into a small horde, I am wiping away tears from the absurdity of this mismatched nativity.
And yet, every year I am reminded of a simple but oh-so-important truth as I set up my antique glass nativity, and that is that there is only one baby Jesus. I don’t have that particular piece in duplicates, nor is he missing altogether. And I think that’s really important to note.
Lesson 2: There is only one Savior. His name is Jesus.
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I’ve always wanted a fancy Nativity set to display in my yard during the Christmas season.
Hobby Lobby has a beautiful outdoor nativity that costs several hundred dollars. Jon and I priced it a couple of years ago, and it’s nowhere near our price range for outdoor Christmas decor.
I have seen those simple Nativity scenes cut from plywood and painted white. These can usually be purchased for a reasonable price. I’ve also found patterns online to make them yourself. We’ve never bought or made one. Probably the biggest deterrent has been that we don’t have a truck to transport this large decorative piece or the plywood to make it to our house.
One year, Jon bought a blow-up Nativity for our yard. We had foster toddlers at the time, and they loved our Nativity. Sadly, it only lasted about three Christmases before it wouldn’t blow up anymore.
This Christmas, I told Jon that I thought of something we might be able to do for our yard and he was glad to help me make this vision come to life.
Together, we pulled out bits and pieces of wood from our shed and constructed a manger plus a cross. It took us just a couple of hours. I love the rustic appearance. Later, we went to Hobby Lobby, where I bought some straw and an old-looking piece of fabric for the swaddling cloth. All together we spent $6 on Christmas decorations for our yard.
I know it’s not a traditional Nativity, but it’s still really special to me. I’ll always cherish Jon’s enthusiasm for bringing my vision to fruition, as well as the time we spent together working on the project. And I think it will be hard for me to forget us searching through the fabrics to find the perfect one for our swaddling cloth.
But what I love the very most is that the manger is empty. Jesus didn’t stay an infant. He grew up and led a perfectly sinless life. He lived just to die and take the punishment for my sins.
Lesson 3: The manger in Bethlehem means nothing without the Cross of Calvary.
Here’s the best news of all: Jesus isn’t on the cross either.
That’s because He rose from the dead. He lives eternally, and through His death and resurrection offers me eternal life too.
It’s simple. The first step is to admit that I am a sinner, incapable of living life without breaking God’s laws. The punishment for not obeying God is death or eternal separation from Him.
Next I believe that Jesus came to live that perfect life without sin, and willingly took my punishment (death on the cross). However, He rose back to life and overcame death. The tomb is empty.
Finally, I repent or turn from living life my own way and surrender to living life God’s way. I confess Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of my life. And when I do that, God says that though I die an earthly death, I will live with Him forever in Heaven.
The best Christmas present out there is the presence of Jesus in your heart and life.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.Romans 10:9