Holiday lights, candy canes, snowmen, Santa and his elves – everywhere we look, we see Christmas decorations. These things are nice, and they put us in the holiday spirit, but no symbol is as meaningful to me as the nativity scene. It is this familiar display that reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn,” the Gospel of Luke says. This description of the birth of Jesus forms our image of the nativity: a mother and father adoring an infant child cradled in a feed trough.
Luke says shepherds visited the child after an angel appeared to them in the field, bearing “good tidings of great joy.” The disciple Matthew’s account tells us that wise men traveled from the east and brought gifts. Usually, nativities also include farm animals, often an ox and donkey. These elements – Mary and Joseph, the child in a manger, an angel, shepherds, wise men and livestock – are part of nearly every nativity scene we see and are an ever-present reminder that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ.
The recreation of the scene of Jesus’ birth as a holiday tradition dates to the 13th century and Saint Francis of Assisi. An Italian friar, Francesco was concerned that people were placing too much emphasis on gift-giving and materialism. He arranged a nativity scene with live animals and humans portraying biblical characters at a cave near his home in Italy. The display was so popular the practice spread and a tradition was born.
Today, the nativity – sometimes called a crib or crèche – is an essential part of the holiday celebration in many homes and communities. Families read the story of Jesus’ birth to their children and allow the little ones to place figures of shepherds, wise men and the holy family within a tabletop stable. Images of the nativity adorn holiday greeting cards and miniature crèches hang as ornaments from trees. We drive down streets illuminated with holiday decorations and see nativities on lawns. Live nativities, complete with human actors and livestock, continue to be the highlight of many Christmas displays.
We often hear criticism that Christmas has become too commercial and the true meaning is lost. I’m not sure that’s true. As long as the nativity scene is part of the Christmas tradition, we will always remember that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. As we enjoy the holiday decorations this year, I hope all of us will look upon the iconic nativity scenes around us and remember the reason for the season.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” Luke wrote. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Merry Christmas to all. I hope you have a joyous and safe holiday season.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.