Taking the "I" Out of Holiday
As a kid, I loved the one-two punch of "The Holidays." Thanksgiving break was nothing more than a dress rehearsal for the big event coming in a month. I might see some family or hang out with friends, but before I knew it, my four-day weekend was over and it was back to school. Aside from a couple of construction paper Pilgrim hats, lots of green bean casserole, and a school play where I landed the part of "rock #3," Thanksgiving typically meant very little to me. Then there's Christmas break—the Perfect Storm of holidays. There are several factors that collide to make it so great: 1) no school, 2) lots of food, 3) people give you stuff.
Not too bad. And to be honest, for many years, that's all the holidays ever meant to me. It was a time for me to take a break. A time for me to do what I wanted to do. A time for me to clean house on all the gifts I didn't get for my birthday.
But there has to be more to it than that, right? It can't just be about me. That can't be all that God had in mind for this time of year. Thankfully, it's not. In fact, the secret to doing the holidays right was under my nose all along.
The answer came to me from seeing all those Christmas Nativity scenes. They're everywhere this time of year. There are little ones you put out on the coffee table. There are the big ones that take up most of the mantle above the fireplace. Then there are the not-quite-life-size versions people keep in their yards (these tend to light up for some reason). And finally, there are the ever popular Living Nativities, where youth groups stand outside in the cold for hours in bathrobes and Birkenstocks. I'm sure your family has a Nativity scene or two in the house. If it's one of those Living Nativities, well, that's just weird.
The Nativity scene my parents had when I was around 8 came with characters the exact same size as my GI Joe action figures. This presented a temptation too great for me to bear. By the time my mom got home from work, my GI Joe battles had made their way up the bookshelf to where the Nativity scene had held a secure position. But thanks to GI Joe's strategic attack, their position was compromised. Before long, shepherds would be carrying numchucks. Wise men traded in their Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh for Grenades, Flamethrowers and Machine Guns. While nothing spices up the Christmas story like a couple of ninjas and a minesweeper, it probably wasn't the scene my mom wanted up on the shelf.
Aside from teaching me valuable combat skills, the Nativity scene taught me something very important about Christmas. It's there we get a glimpse into the core of Jesus' life and mission here on Earth. The Nativity scene reveals that Jesus came to be with us. To be with us. Everyone we see in a Nativity scene reminds us of how important it was for Jesus to not only give his life for us, but to live his life with us.
Jesus could have been born in some palace where he was instantly waited on by several high-priced nannies. He could have been born with only Mary and Joseph hanging around. He could have done it a hundred different ways, but Jesus showed early in his life how important it is for him to be with us. In fact, one of the many beautiful names given to Jesus is Immanuel, which means "God With Us" (Matthew 1:23).