09 December 2011

the nativity

In my small hometown, a debate is brewing. Petitions are floating around. Friendships are being strained. No doubt you’ve heard this story—or one very similar: the nativity on the town square must be removed. A letter was received, written on the behalf of a citizen of the county, stating that the display isn’t constitutional. And do you know what? I agree. It isn’t. Feel free to have one in your yard (and I hope those who are fighting so hard DO have a nativity in the yard!) or have a creche at your church, but not on government property.
I know; it’s likely that I’m a believer in Christ who’s in the minority. And I know that some might call my faith into question. That’s okay. Others might not go so far, but would accuse me of allowing “them” to take Christ out of Christmas. I’m not. I love Him. That baby in the manger.
Earlier this week, my boss gave me a Christmas IQ Quiz. [Side note: I work at a Christian school.] Before he gave it to me, he predicted that I wouldn’t do better than 50 on the quiz. I was just certain he was wrong. Really wrong. I mean, I grew up going to church. I know multiple verses to dozens of Christmas carols. I’ve been an angel in church programs and stood proudly on the third level from the top of our singing Christmas tree. I was certain that I could score an 85 or better. I know Christmas!
Guess what? He was wrong. And so was I. I scored 55. The word you’re looking for is: seriously?! I mean I’ve sung the “Hallelujah Chorus” more times than I can count! I don’t even need the music in front of me, and I haven’t performed it for at least 6 years. That’s how many programs I’ve been part of! Although they bring such joy, it’s made the facts of the real story a little hazy for me. As I answered some of the questions on this Christmas IQ quiz, I sang verses to Christmas songs in my head. Christmas songs are accurate, aren’t they? It turns out that they aren’t always correct.
How much do you know about the birth of Christ? When was the last time you read the story out of the Bible, without adding details about the story? Before you look at these questions, I’d love for you to read the story of the birth of Jesus from Matthew and Luke. And I certainly hope that some of you know more than I did!
1.    Baby Jesus was born in a ______________? We don’t know. We only know that he was laid in a manger. The Bible never talks about a barn. What if the trough was shoved under an eave of the inn? Maybe it was used by little goats that provided milk for the inn and took shelter by the building. We don’t know. Maybe Joseph—being the [probably scared] teenager that he was—found a few rough-hewn pieces of wood to lean together to make some sort of a shelter for his young wife-to-be who was birthing a Savior. (See Luke 2:7)
2.    What animals were at the birth of Jesus? Sure, there are always an ox, donkey, camel and sheep in the nativity scene, but were they next to the manger? We don’t know. Maybe there were none. Or maybe there were noisy goats and chickens who made a huge mess!
3.    “…the little Lord, Jesus no crying he makes” Did baby Jesus cry? We know that Jesus was fully man and fully God. He cried as an adult, so why wouldn’t he cry as a baby?
4.    How many Wise Men / Kings / Magi were there? We always had three in our Christmas programs, but we have no idea how many came—only that three gifts were brought. This one got me! And they arrived much later than the birth night—they had a long way to travel. (See Matthew 2:11)
Honestly, after I took this quiz, I was a little embarrassed. I wanted to know more about THE story. The REAL story of the birth of Christ. So I read it, in both Matthew and Luke. And I read it again. Then, I wanted to know who came up with the idea of a nativity scene. The designer of the first nativity is a favorite for me: St. Francis of Assisi. It seems he took a creative license in 1223 and strayed a little from the story that’s in the Bible, adding kings and animals galore. Can you guess what his goal was in 1223? To switch the focus at Christmastime from secular materialism to Christ. Can you believe it? I think we live in a lavish time, but he was concerned 800 years ago!
Why is the nativity scene still so popular? Is it to nudge us away from the material aspects of Christmas? Because, really, it doesn’t do that for me. I know; I’m just being honest. The scene with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a throng of animals, shepherds, angels and kings is expected. In fact, I’ve been on the hunt for years for the “perfect” nativity for our house. For me, it’s a tradition. First, put up the tree; then set up the nativity.
So why the fight to keep this scene on a courthouse square? For me, if it comes down, Christ doesn’t come out of my Christmas because Christ is Christmas.
Christ is Christmas.
Is the energy given to fighting this worth it? Or could it be better spent? What if we loved people who haven’t felt worthy of love in some time? What if our families took an extra angel off of an angel tree and forfeited a bit of our excessive Christmas? What if a group of friends gathered all of the “fixings” for Christmas dinner for a family in need? Or co-workers bought a Christmas tree with dozens of ornaments and twinkle lights to anonymously leave for a family that doesn’t have that joy this year? What if we, as Christians, did Christ-like things for the hurting and poor? Do we really need an inaccurate nativity scene to make Christ’s love more real? I don’t think so.
Be careful, brothers- and sisters-in-Christ, when you respond to others about this. Don't be mean-spirited. Yesterday, I saw hateful comments posted on websites that have reported this story, replying awfully to those who don't believe in Jesus. Today, I saw a picture of a banner suggesting that those who don't believe in Christ leave our country. The baby in the manger—the one you're fighting for—wouldn't have responded this way. Our Living Savior loves "them." Those people who hate Him. He loves those who don't know Him. We're commanded to love these people, and He loves us when we don't love others. Let others see Christ through you. Let them want to know about this baby who became our Savior and King. Love "them" like Christ loves us.
Christ is love. Christ is Christmas.
{Please know that it took several days for me to process this. I have prayed over this, wanting this post to be more than words. I want this ultimatum given to remove the nativity to spur Christians to love more and more. Let's take it down and SHOW our neighbors the love of Christ. It means more than a plastic baby Jesus in a manger. I know that not everyoneor perhaps anyonewill agree. Also, I love comments! If you choose to leave one, and if that comment it hateful or snarky or calls my faith into question, I will remove it.}


Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam said...

You know, just the other day, I was trying to imagine how I might feel about things like "In God We Trust" on money, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and Nativity Scenes in public if I were an atheist. I honestly don't think I would care. And the fact that other people do care strikes me as being a stain on their character.

Imagine for a moment that I went to a country that was predominantly Muslim, and I became a citizen of that country. Would it be right for me to object to all the Muslim symbols that would permeate that country just because they show up in public or government buildings? I don't think so because Islam is woven into the culture of that country. To object to public displays of Islam would be to object the expression of that country's culture.

America is a little more diverse than most countries we typically think of as Islamic, but Christianity is still the predominant religion, and it's an expression of our culture. If I were an atheist living in America, I would accept that Christianity is part of the culture. I would accept that it would be expressed in all kinds of ways, including nativity scenes in public places. I wouldn't want it to change.

And I would be perfectly fine with Menorahs or whatever other religious symbols that are expressions of American culture, too, if they were displayed in public places. This in no way constitutes an "establishment of religion." It is simply an expression of our heritage that happens to be religious.

allison said...

Kristina, I think you are right on.

Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful, bold, and well-written post.

Hannah D said...

I absolutely agree with this, and I agree with Sam's comment above, as well.

I have had a few days to mull over this issue. I can plainly see both sides of it. There are many facets of this situation that could be discussed and they raise many points. But what it comes down to is that technically, the scene shouldn't be where it is, plain and simple. I am annoyed by that "rule", but that doesn't matter. This is nothing new.

What really grieves me is the reaction by some of the citizens that I've seen. Rude, intolerant, hateful, willfully ignorant, blind. It stains our county's reputation. It gives the rest of the nation a false impression of Athens, TX and most importantly, the Christian faith. It presents Henderson County as a bunch of religious zealots who would go so far as to celebrate the oppression and extermination of any person or group not professing Christianity. This is a really dangerous mindset. Here, the focus is no longer on our tenets of faith, but on division, on shutting out others, on lowly human nature. How can these professing "Christians" have missed this??

Athens is not the first town square targeted by the FFRF. A quick google search will reveal that this organization has been at it all over the US for about 30 years.

It is so easy to lose focus on what this really is. This is really not a big deal at all. Why do we Christians expect an easy, accommodating ride through life with our faith? Why do we so often take others (people of differing beliefs) out of the equation? Why do we regard them as sub-human? Why are we so SELFISH?

I really believe this happened for a reason. Regardless of the FFRF, the disgruntled citizen, the din of disapproval, we have been called to remember the importance of this holiday. Jesus never forced his preaching on people. People came to HIM. He never over-explained himself. He served others. AND He commanded us to love. Why do we feel like we are above this? Also, we need to remember that we are increasingly a persecuted bunch, and to receive this persecution with joy.

Anonymous said...

This made the national news. Thought you might be interested: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/12/nativity-scene-is-a-superstition-says-atheist-group-but-santa-can-stay/

Liz said...

What a great post!!