Every year, my nativity set is laid out the same. Pulled from the same box, from the same styrofoam, and laid out on the same gold runner. Even the placement of baby Jesus requires the same slow movement from box to manger, with both Mary and Joseph positioned so their eyes can lovingly look into His.
I imagine that when God set the very first nativity scene, it was done in a very careful fashion, with each detail well thought out in His mind for how He wanted His Son to enter our world. His Son. Our world.
I don’t underestimate God’s intelligence, but if it were me, I’d question if our world was a safe place for my son, knowing what I know from both the media and experience, and even more so if I were God.
But He is God, and He knows everything. He knows what happened with Noah’s ark (yesterday), and He knows what’s happening on Easter (tomorrow). And even then, He still found the lowly manger and our complex world worthy of having His Son so we can be with Him.
Focus on the word “with” with me, and then say “God is with me.” Do you feel His presence? When you pray, do you picture Him sitting with you and working on every detail to answer your prayer?
I felt a deep sense of conviction with my answers. I know God is with me, but somehow I picture Him off in a distant somewhere passively listening to me. That He’s up in the clouds looking down upon me rather than having my head on His lap in a moment of true intimacy. When praying with others, I know I ask for God to enter our presence rather than acknowledge that He’s already here or that I entered His throne room the minute I folded my hands.
Immanuel - God with us.
Even when Jesus’ birth was foretold, the angel Gabriel emphasized God’s active presence:
- “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28
- “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Luke 1:35
- “For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
God didn’t send Jesus so we can look into the far off distance. He bridged that gap when the Word became flesh, and when the veil was torn. We are a worthy dwelling place because of His love. And it’s because of that love we are invited to draw closer to Him in our dependence on Him, in repenting our sins, and in our active faith. He came down so we may walk with Him, and grow with Him.
I know Christmas is going to look very different for many of us. Whether we are celebrating Christmas with a smaller crowd, completely apart from family, or navigating financial challenges - loneliness is only one of the many things we may feel. But let me assure you, brothers and sisters, we are NOT alone. Our Heavenly Father is deeply in love with you, and He is here. Feel Him, smell Him, hear Him, see Him.
As I gaze upon the nativity scene on my table, I acknowledge His presence as I reflect on His love. Not in how I placed baby Jesus in the manger, but how the Lord placed Jesus in me, and how He placed Him in You.