Monday, December 22, 2014

The Crèche and the Cross

The Nativity, or creche, is integral to the Christmas tradition.

This time of year we often see the so-called “manger scene,” also termed the Nativity or crèche, in homes, stores where holiday decorations are sold, and on public display where protests from freedom-from-religion types have not prevailed. Churches stage a “live Nativity,” complete with baaing sheep, mooing cows, even camels. It’s become an integral part of the Christmas tradition.

A heartwarming representation of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, the Nativity shows the Christ Child surrounded by Mary and Joseph, adoring shepherds and animals, worshiping wise men and angels. Although it’s not always accurate – the biblical details and historians agree the Magi arrived as much as two years after the birth – the crèche displays, small or large, show both the humility and regality of the divine birth.

But I’ve often felt something important is missing in these well-intended scenes. I’m not an artist, but if I had talent for paint and brush, I’d try to include within the humble setting the shadow of a cross, perhaps falling across the Baby in His makeshift crib. Because if it were not for the Cross, the penultimate act of Jesus’ life, there would be no need for a crèche. It would have no meaning. It would have been just another baby being born.

Without the cross, the creche
is merely a sentimental symbol.
The Bible verse many of us know, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life” (John 3:16), reveals Jesus as the first Christmas gift. But God did not send Him to serve just as teacher and role model, but also to become Savior and Redeemer. Because the Scriptures also tell us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In fact, from the moment of His birth, Jesus was embarking on the journey that inevitably led to the Cross. We’re told as He agonized over what lay in front of Him from a human perspective, Jesus prayed, Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

In the film, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” the character played by Will Ferrell offers a prayer to “dear Lord baby Jesus.” It seems Jesus perceived only as an infant is far less imposing and demanding than the adult Christ. And yet, we’re told, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). He didn't do that as a baby.

The Scriptures also inform us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s troubling for many of us to admit we’re sinners, rebels desperately in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. It seems insulting to consider that we – good people we think ourselves to be – need to be “redeemed.”

But that’s what the Bible declares. We enjoy the crèche, it says, only because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us.

So the next time you admire the Nativity, that warm and cozy scene, remember it didn’t end there. That was just the beginning. God came in the flesh to offer a gift we could never obtain on our own, the greatest Christmas gift of all time. And because of that, we say MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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