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Why the Nativity?

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Increasingly the Nativity tends to be associated with the political, as the crèche and other overtly religious symbols are banished from the public square by public pressure or the courts. To some that communicates a baby savior with so little power he can’t even defeat the secular legal authorities who seek his removal. If God is out there, “He must be pretty weak,” could be a common refrain today.

Likewise in some churches the Nativity is seen as an activity for the children, rolled out for December performances as adults become detached from the spiritual and deeper theological significance. For too many of us, it takes on a fairy tale image. A new study by The Barna Group points to the obvious: American Christians are less theologically literate today than in the past.

There are economic consequences to the dechristianizing of the West as well. The drive and obsession for more stuff and gifts often seeks to fill a void opened by the loss of the Nativity and its meaning. Perhaps, the same could be said about the demise of fiscal sanity in Washington as well. Outrageous debt and deficit spending certainly says something about a level of national emptiness that some believe can be filled if government only spends more. There are polls now that suggest that young people do not have the same kind of optimism as their parents did about future success in life and their opportunity to prosper.

As so much seems to be crumbling around us, and yes, the loss of the Nativity in the public square serves as a symbol of that. It is, however, so insignificant when weighed against our inheritance.

Bethlehem, where Christ was born, literally means “House of Bread,” a good birthplace for somebody who came to us as “The Bread of Life.” “The Bread of Heaven came down to earth to feed the hungry,” said Cyril of Jerusalem. The Incarnation of our Lord holds a level of mystery and is perplexing even to the wise. Martin Luther admitted that the works and vast wonder of this Incarnation would not be fully comprehended until “the blessed day of our redemption.”

Still, God appeared as an infant so tender and mild. Some might say Christ is weak for appearing as a baby in the manner that He did. But an overriding message of the manger is that God is merciful, nobody is afraid of an infant. The Wise Men came to the Nativity to worship the Wisest of Men (Matthew 2:11). The birth of Christ is about the Light of the World conquering fear, darkness, and despair.

On Christmas Eve in 1968 Apollo 8 crew members Jim Lovell and Frank Borman took turns reading from the first ten verses of Genesis:

The broadcast from Apollo 8 was the largest viewed television broadcast ever at that time. The dramatic footage from earth from a brand new vantage point captivated viewers across the globe. Likewise, seeing our life and this world anew draws on the remarkable power and promise of the Incarnation of our Lord. It has changed everything. It delivers the promise that God has and will restore everything in the manner in which it was intended. In the words of Isaiah 60: 19 & 20:

The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


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  • Becky

    Here’s something that I find helpful. God does everything for a reason. He’s not like us, who do things on a whim, or because he can. From what I see it is not usually one reason, but many reasons God has for dong one act. All of these reasons can be found in Lord Jesus. I think that this is helpful to know, because it seems to me that people look for a single answer to various questions, while there are many answers, but all answered in the person of Christ, or the lack thereof. In addition, when God incarnates something he does it so that we can learn from it. Now I would argue that one of these reasons for the incarnation would be to show us the Way to be, “. . . by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), . . .” Heb 10:20, and what is required to bring that about. Or in other words, he was the first Christian of which all other Christians are modeled after. Now how did that come about? First, the Word of God was sent to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Who, even though not understanding it, had faith in it. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in, because as immaculate as the Blessed Virgin Mary was she still needed the aid of the Holy Spirit to bring the Word to fruition. But it was only because she was immaculate that she was able to bring Christ into the world in his totality. Now all of these events actually occurred, but they were incarnated, step-by-step (or broken down for us), to show us what is required and what to expect in bringing forth a Christian. Where in us, the steps will be there, but while we give birth to a new person, that new person is a new us, and not a separate being. You can see this in the saints, who once sinners, as they are perfected become more and more like Christ.

    “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” Jas 1:18 So, first, comes someone hearing the Word of God. What comes next will depend on the hearer. Does it fall on deaf ears? Is the ground fertile or rocky? What are the desires of their heart? Do they twist the Word to justify their desires, or with the aid of the Holy Spirit, do they try to ascertain and understand the Truth and love it? But if it does take root, then where does it take place? As the Blessed Virgin Mary was symbolic of the Church, then it needs take place there. The Church needs to love and care for a new believer as a mother loves and cares for the child inside her. In the same way, the new believer needs to love and care for this new person growing inside them. The Church also needs to understand that for the new believer to bring this forth it’s going to be a struggle. You are bringing forth something new, from what is old. In the same way, that in becoming a Christian you are leaving an old world and entering into a new world, while still living in the old world, with different beliefs, desires, purpose, values, etc . And because we are entering into a new world, then we will be like that newborn, not knowing anything about anything, so we will need to be nourished, swaddled, taught, and protected, with patience and love while we grow in the time proscribed by God.

    Like any loving parent who lowers themselves to the child’s level in order to better reach them, our Father, did the same with us. In order to bring light, understanding, and salvation to the world, so that we won’t be Ishmaels who look in contempt of what we perceive to be small and weak, but instead look on it as something miraculous, as a sign of God’s love for us, and as something that needs to be cared for, not lorded over, in ourselves and others.

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