I grew up around nativities. My mother collected them, and was always looking for local artisans using local materials as she travelled around the world.
Her dozens of nativities were a testament to how differently people and cultures told the Christmas story.
One thing was always the same, though. Whether it was made of wood or ceramic, metal or corn husk, whether it was carved or molded, intricate or simple, Jesus was always in the center. No matter how many people, animals, or angels the set included, all of them were there for the holy baby.
“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14a
As a very young child, I obviously didn’t have the motor skills or care to handle her delicate nativities, so she gave me a chunky plastic one. It was so simple. Just Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus made out of painted brown plastic, and I loved it.
I could hold it in my hands, move it from surface to surface and room to room. Today it sits year round on a shelf by my bed. It’s one of the first things I see every morning, reminding me of the basic truth I need to ground my day in.
When I got a little older she gave me a larger set to put out at Christmas. It had lots of pieces, and while it stayed on its assigned table all month, I rearranged it constantly.
I would read through the Christmas story, reenacting what I viewed as my own little ceramic nativity playset.
I have children of my own now and wanted to make the story of Christmas come to life for them in a similar way it did for me.
Their first nativity had a few more pieces than mine and was even more indestructible. But still, at the center was Jesus.
Years later, when they’d grown old enough to help with the more delicate decorations, they still used it to tell the story of Christmas.
Scholars spend a lot of time debating when Jesus was actually born, but I don’t think it’s an accident regardless of the historic timing that we celebrate His coming at the end of the year.
For so many of us, we get to the end of the year and can only feel how much time we’ve lost, how little we managed to accomplish, or how far we’ve let ourselves slide.
We roll into the new year with determination that this next calendar will be different, next Christmas we will have got it together. Yes, we said the same thing twelve months ago, but this time we mean it.
Or maybe you’ve worked hard all year, hit your goals, and now you’re wondering if there’s anything more. You’re moving into next year with a sense of accomplishment but not a sense of purpose.
The good news is, that no matter where you are as the year comes to a close, Jesus is what you need.
Feeling desperate and alone? Cling to the simple basics. Take one day at a time, one step at a time. Jesus came to hold your hand and guide you through it all. Looking for more? Searching for meaning? Jesus can give you that, too. He can help raise the questions and then guide you to the answers. Or maybe you’re looking at the sparkling lights and the stars on the trees and realizing you don’t know Jesus, but you want to. He’s ready for that, too. You don’t have to know all the answers or even ask the difficult questions, yet.
Wherever you are this year, what we all need to remember, is to put Jesus at the center. When we do, the hustle and bustle of the season turns to peace, our frustrations with others gives way to the love we have for them, our fears for the future are overcome by hope, and the contentment of true joy propels us into the next year.
Our circumstances won’t change when the clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve, but if we put Jesus at the center, our perspective just might. And maybe that’s all we need to make our lives – and the world – a little better.
“For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow –
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth –
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
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