“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12 (NIV)
“Read it again Mommy. Pleeeease read it again,” Mackenzie, my then seven-year-old, begged. Her three-year-old brother, Mitchell, echoed her plea. “Yes Mommy, especially the part about the little boy and his donkey!”
Their freshly washed faces and still wet hair glowed in the light of the Christmas tree as they sat with pajamas on next to me on the couch. A nightly December ritual, they chose a book from our “Baby Jesus Basket” full of story books about the birth of Christ.
Their favorite this particular year was The Small One, a fictitious story of a too small donkey who has to be sold in order to bring in one piece of silver. His young master takes him to town, but no one wants such a small creature except for the village tanner. The donkey is ready to give up his life when a kind man offers to buy him to help carry his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. So the small donkey is given the great task of carrying the mother of Jesus to the stable where He will be born.
I have always loved reading Christmas stories to my children and each year they receive a new nativity book from my mom. That year, however, my eyes were opened to part of the story that I had been unintentionally leaving out. After tottering over to the “Baby Jesus Basket” to put away the book we’d just finished, Mitchell asked me to read him a story from the Bible about the other Jesus.
“What other Jesus?” I asked.
“Not baby Jesus,” he replied. “Big Jesus who died on the cross.”
Now realizing that he’d not connected the two in his mind, I sat and explained that the baby Jesus grew up to be the same Jesus who died on the cross to save us from our sins. Somehow he’d figured baby Jesus was a fairy tale and big Jesus was “for real.”
I thought of how we adults can do much the same thing. Oh, we know there is just one Jesus and that He is for real, but we are content to leave Him harmlessly in the manger. Somehow a sweet adorable little baby is acceptable to the world around us. But a Lord who calls for men and women to obey His word is not. But we can’t have one part of the story without the other. We must never forget that the hand-hewn manger one day became an old rugged cross.
We can’t just peer lovingly into the manger without looking obediently to the cross. Baby Jesus deserves our adoration and the Lord Jesus deserves our allegiance.
The next year I did not neglect the entire story of the one true Jesus when reading nativity books to our children. Starting with Luke chapter two from God’s perfect Word before I chose a picture book from our special basket we read of God’s wonderful plan of sending Jesus to earth. We worked on memorizing more of the Scripture in order to put on our annual nativity play for Grandma and Grandpa complete with baby Spencer starring as the Christ child.
Still today, I’m always on the lookout for ways to keep the story going until Easter in order to tie it all together. Here is my favorite we did one year. (I wish I had pictures but it was before I had a smart phone!)
We saved our Christmas tree, cut off all of the branches so we were left with one large trunk. Then we cut off the top about one-third of the way down and used a heavy rope-like twine to tie the two pieces together in the shape of the cross. Then, you can place the cross in the house where the Christmas tree had been as a visual reminder of the entire life of Christ. Or, you can do what we did which was to place it in our front yard with a spot light on it for when it was dark. Then, during Holy Week, was used coated foam board to tell the gospel story, along with different color fabric draped across the shoulders of the cross.
For example, on Palm Sunday, the sign said, “Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey and is hailed as King”. Then, on Monday it read, “Jesus weeps over Jerusalem”. On Tuesday it told of Judas agreeing to betray Jesus. Wednesday was silent. Then Thursday through Sunday told of the Last Supper, his death, burial and resurrection.
(Now I really wish I had pictures to show! We do have all the signs out in the pole barn so I could go out there and look at them but, well, there is a half foot of snow still on the ground and I am inside by the fire in my pjs, so there’s that!) For the cloth, the cross was draped in purple for Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday. On Friday it was red. On Saturday it was black and on Easter Sunday it was purple.
I’m praying you find your own creative ways to tell the entire story of the gospel to your loved ones this Christmas—your kids and grandkids, your neighbors, your friends.