When Kory and I were engaged, his parents lavished us with gifts for our first home. They were so generous and gave us so many wonderful things.
Tools and appliances for our kitchen.
China and crystal.
Towels for our bathroom.
And bedding for the antique bed we inherited from my grandparents.
But my very favorite gift was the nativity set they gave us. Because finding the perfect nativity set to adorn our home at Christmas was kind of a big deal to me. And we’d been searching high and low for “the one” to no avail. So when my mother-in-law called me from Amana, Iowa (where she grew up) and described a beautifully detailed pewter nativity, I was sold.
But it wasn’t an inexpensive nativity. So it was decided that she would give me a few pieces every year at Christmas until we had the entire set. Unbeknownst to me, though, she ordered it all at once for fear that it would be discontinued. And on the first Christmas after our wedding, she surprised me with the entire set. When I asked her why she didn’t just give me the few pieces we had agreed on, she told me that when it arrived, it was so beautiful she just couldn’t bear to put it in the closet!
When I laid eyes on each of the pieces, I had to agree with her. It was too beautiful to stow away!
Isn’t that so with the love of Christ? When we truly experience it, we can’t keep it to ourselves. We can’t hide it in the depths of our hearts. We can’t not talk about it.
When we truly experience the love of Jesus, we are compelled to live differently. To pass it on. To share the love of Jesus with others as an outpouring of gratitude for the way in which Jesus first loved us.
So every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, I unpack the nativity. And I display it in a prominent place in our home to help us remember the gift of God’s love given to us through the baby in the manger. To help us remain focused on Christ in the midst of the busyness of Christmas. And to encourage us to share his love with others.
The nativity is always more beautiful than I recall it from the prior year.
It draws me in.
And much how I used to feel peering through the window of my childhood doll house, I find myself wishing I could put myself in the scene. To go back in time as a participant in the story. To experience first-hand the miracle of Christmas.
In the manger.
At the feet of Jesus.
I want the nativity to mean something to our kids too. So this year, instead of setting the nativity up by myself, I asked our two oldest kids to pitch in so that I could share the Christmas story with them in a new way. (Because our youngest can “shoot the wheels off” activities like these, I chose to do this activity during his nap time. This is not my first rodeo. And I’m not guilt-stricken at all.)
We unpacked the nativity together and divided the pieces evenly between them so they could take turns placing them in the scene. When we unpacked Baby Jesus, we talked about how Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift. And to help us remember that Advent is a time where we wait with great anticipation for that gift to come, we placed the baby in a simple white box with a raffia bow tied around it. Then I read aloud the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12. I asked them to listen closely for the appropriate time to place each of their pieces in the scene, and along the way, I asked them some questions to make them think:
Do you think it would have been easy or hard for Mary to travel to Bethlehem with a baby in her tummy?
How do you think Mary and Joseph might have felt when they got to Bethlehem and there was no room in the inn?
What do you think the shepherds thought when the angel appeared to them?
How do you think you would have felt if that had happened to you?
As I read the story, our nativity came to be, born out of the handiwork of our kids:
On Christmas morning, we plan to let Little Bit open the box, and we’ll place Baby Jesus in the manger in honor of his birthday. And between now and then, everyone in our house is waiting with great anticipation for Jesus to come.
Even “Fly,” our Elf on the Shelf. (Wink.)