December 5, 2014

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

This Christmas, view the Nativity scene with new eyes of faith

Patti LambGrowing up, I never quite understood it. Only now, am I beginning to grasp it a little better.

Each year at Christmastime for as long as I can remember, my dad would go to great lengths to display a beautiful nativity set in our home. He took great care to keep it lit with candles, perfectly illuminating the scene.

Back then, I thought that was a lot of work for something that very few people saw. The part I particularly didn’t understand, however, was how my dad would sit quietly, at the end of a long day, in front of the Nativity. He made a marked effort to stop and reflect on the wonder of it all.

I, on the other hand, find myself trapped year after year in the snares of a commercial Christmas. I focus my energy on shopping, baking, decorating and bustling in general. On my mad dash from store to store, I rarely say words like “Advent” and “Savior.” Instead, I find myself talking excessively of “sales” and “coupons.” I relish the thought of checking tasks off my holiday “to do” list.

My dad’s example sticks in my mind, serving as a reminder that life has no “pause” button and prompting me to stop and soak it all in. When I reflect on the manger scene, it really is something to fathom.

God selects a young virgin to be the mother of our Redeemer, and she says “yes.” God chooses an earthly stepfather for the boy, and he, too, says “yes.” No accommodations are made when labor ensues, and so the king is born among livestock with no fanfare. The swaddling clothes in which he was wrapped were far from majestic. I wonder how Mary and Joseph had such unwavering faith in the midst of discomfort and uncertainty.

And that makes me view the Nativity scene with new eyes. When we find life too much to bear, with its troublesome circumstances and seemingly impossible situations, we may find ourselves feeling like Mary and Joseph did at the birth of Jesus: uncomfortable and lost, unsure of what to do next, except to follow God’s guidance, confident of his grace and love.

Some might have wondered how God could possibly bring anything good out of the humble circumstances of Jesus’s birth or the agony of his death. But as we read in Scripture, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Is 55:8). Even when we don’t understand, we must believe.

This Christmas, you might find yourself struggling with failure or disappointment. Perhaps you’ve lost a job. Or worse—maybe you’ve lost someone you love, one who remains permanently etched in your heart. But look at the Nativity, and see how God can take total underdogs—like a young virgin and a stepfather—who are willing to follow his lead, and allow their faith to culminate in the redemption and salvation of the world.

That’s a lot to take in, especially while we’re frantically preparing for Christmas. Perhaps our time is better spent in ways other than shopping and baking this Advent. Maybe a few moments are best spent quietly before the Nativity, reflecting on how God used, and continues to use, Earth’s unlikely candidates to reveal his glory—and how the story always ends well when we live by God’s will and not by our own.

May our weary world encounter the “thrill of hope” Christmas brings and be reminded that God will make everything OK—through the birth of his Son.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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