Manger Scenes


christmas-lights-in-brea
I’ve been thinking this year about some of the traditional activities connected with Christmas—presents, trees, music. This week I enjoyed a tradition that dates back to my childhood: I took a tour of a neighborhood where the majority of the homes set up incredible displays of Christmas lights.

Not just any lights. These home owners in this section of the city of Brea go all out at Christmas and decorate in every imaginable way. They hang and drape and wrap and wind and string lights from the peak of roofs to the edge of lawns and everywhere in between.

The result is magical. I mean, it’s astounding the creations these people come up with. They portray every aspect of Christmas you can think of. There are yards outlined with candy canes, others filled with presents. There are arches with holly wreaths and poinsettias and bells and jack-in-the-box-like reveals of children or elves or Santa.

There are presents and flashing lights set to music, icicles, and candy canes. Snoopy and his his crew get a bit of attention and of course so do snowmen and carolers and reindeer. But clearly, Santa is the star of the show.

A few years ago the new thing seemed to be to upgrade his transportation, and that’s still in place. While there were some sleighs, there were also trains, helicopters, airplanes, and even a hot-air balloon or two ready to whisk Santa away to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys.

I truly did enjoy the light show, and this year there was a noticeable increase in the number of manger scenes, some in especially prominent places.

One home displayed several Bible verses in among the light display. One verse was Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” I think one might have been a Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament, and the third was John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

A couple houses had big Noel signs and another had a lighted cross in an upstairs window. They also put a cross inside the star that they put on the top of a gigantic evergreen tree beside their home.

Most surprising were the two dozen or so that said “Wise men still seek Him.” I suspect someone in the community had them printed up and made available because they were all the same, all placed prominently in the front.

When I was growing up, Nativity Scenes were not unusual. We used to visit the State Capitol Building in Denver, and there was always a manger scene among the many lavish decorations. Often in the windows of homes we could see a wooden stable with figurines of Joseph, Mary, a collection of shepherds, and magi huddled around a manger where the fairly old looking pretend baby Jesus lay.

One of the families in the school where I taught had twelve children. And they happened to be a very musical group (VERY musical—tremendous talent). At some point they decided to go beyond a nativity display to a nativity re-enactment. I mean, they had, for quite a few years, a new born baby, whether child or grandchild, to play the part of baby Jesus. They did this on the front lawn of their very large home in Fullerton, and people would come from all over to watch the performance, much the way I did this week to view the Christmas lights.

The point is, the events the Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ, once were prominent in our Christmas decorations. Our technology has improved and our displays have become more elaborate, but now including something about Jesus is noteworthy.

On the other hand, when a manger scene at Christmas was an expected part of the decoration, it didn’t mean anything significant. They were common, and lots of people displayed them, whether they worship the Christ or not.

Now, I doubt people here in SoCal put up manger scenes unless they are purposefully, intentionally making a statement about what they believe about Christmas.

May the lights shining from the homes with Nativity Scenes shine ever brighter this year.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 21, 2016 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Nativity Scene


Nativity_Scenes004I’ve been thinking this year about some of the traditional activities connected with Christmas–presents, trees, music. This past week I had the wonderful pleasure to view Christmas lights.

Not just any lights. There are a couple streets in the city of Brea where the home owners (of very nice homes) go all out at Christmas and decorate in every imaginable way. They hang and drape and wrap and wind and string lights from the peak of roofs to the edge of lawns and everywhere in between.

The result is magical. I mean, it’s astounding the creations these people come up with. They portray every aspect of Christmas you can think of. There are yards outlined with candy canes, others filled with presents. There are arches with holly wreaths and poinsettias and bells and jack-in-the-box-like reveals of children or elves or Santa.

Snoopy and his his crew get a bit of attention and of course so do snowmen and carolers and reindeer. But clearly, Santa is the star of the show.

The new thing seems to be to upgrade his transportation. While there were some sleighs, there were also trains, helicopters, airplanes, and even one hot-air balloon ready to whisk Santa away to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys.

I truly did enjoy the light show, but the thing that stayed with me most was the fact that out of the hundred or so homes we looked at, I only saw two nativity scenes. Two. A couple houses had big Noel signs and one had a “Wise men still seek him” sign. Another home had a lighted cross in an upstairs window.

When I was growing up, Nativity Scenes were not unusual. We used to visit the State Capitol Building in Denver, and there was always a manger scene among the many lavish decorations. Often in the windows of homes we could see a wooden stable with figurines of Joseph, Mary, a collection of shepherds, and magi huddled around a manger where the fairly old looking pretend baby Jesus lay.

One of the families in the school where I taught had twelve children. And they happened to be a very musical group (VERY musical–tremendous talent). At some point they decided to go beyond a nativity display to a nativity re-enactment. I mean, they had, for quite a few years, a new born baby, whether child or grandchild, to play the part of baby Jesus. They did this on the front lawn of their very large home in Fullerton, and people would come from all over to watch the performance, much the way I did this past week to view the Christmas lights.

The point is, the events the Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ, once were prominent in our Christmas decorations. Our technology has improved and our displays have become more elaborate, but with it, there doesn’t seem to be an increase in spiritual awareness.

I couldn’t help but think, though, that once a manger scene at Christmas didn’t mean anything more than any other decoration. They were common, expected.

Now, I doubt people here in SoCal put up manger scenes unless they are purposefully, intentionally making a statement about what they believe about Christmas.

May the lights shining from the homes with Nativity Scenes shine ever brighter this year.

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas Trees


christmas-time-1408534-mReal or plastic?

When I was growing up, real was the only way, in part because it was the cheapest way. I sort of felt sorry for people who had to have fake trees. They came in all kinds of outlandish colors, looking more like gigantic sno-cones than evergreen trees. They had a real feel of the future, though, made from plastic or metallic foil, as they were.

And then came a twist–fake trees made to look like the real thing.

Suddenly there was an attraction to fake trees: no yearly expense for a new one, no need to remember to water it, no messy needles to clean up. The downside? I suppose the initial payout might be steep, and for those of us who enjoy the fragrance of pine, that’s missing. Of course, there’s the loss of tradition, too, since families won’t be heading to a Christmas tree lot one cold night after Thanksgiving, picking out a tree, loading it on top of their car, and setting it up in their living room.

Still, for many, there seems to be a lot more up side than down to these artificial trees.

Of course, there is also the issue of decorating trees. Should the lights be multicolored or all of one uniform color? Are the ornaments classical and identical or are they handmade and representative of a person or family’s interests and activities? Do you use tinsel? A star or an angel?

Christmas_tree_in_TexasLike Christmas presents, Christmas trees and lights and all the decorations, for that matter, occupy a good amount of money, time, and energy during this busy season. For those locked in bleak climates of white snow and gray clouds, the colorful reds and greens of Christmas can be a refreshing break to the monotony and drabness of winter that has just set in.

So is there a Christian worldview of Christmas trees and all the accompanying decorations?

I think so. I think there’s a Christian worldview of everything, though that will not play out the same from one home to another, let alone from one country to another. Nevertheless, I think the Bible gives us some guidance.

First, God, in laying out what His tabernacle was to look like, included beautiful things. He included candles and incense and fine priestly garments. He gave detailed instructions for a gold table and cherubs and an ark. He specified the handcrafted curtains with an intricate design.

In other words, creating beautiful things and a beautiful atmosphere was part of creating a place of worship. Can that translate into our homes, especially when all that we do at Christmas time is not concerned with worship?

Well, there’s the real point, isn’t it. Shouldn’t a Christian’s life be about worship? I mean, our bodies, Scripture says, are temples of the Holy Spirit. So why wouldn’t our homes, where we spend time day in and day out, be as significant as, say, our church?

I’m not saying decoration is mandated in Scripture, but clearly having beautiful things, especially at a time of celebration, is consistent with what God instituted for the nation Israel.

I also think Christmas trees and decorations can be a form of giving. I mean, chances are people in a family may have different ideas about the way things should look and how things should be done. The first gift a person can give, then, is peaceful assent. In other words, cheerfully and joyfully doing things the way the other person wants to do them.

Maybe it could be Johnny’s turn to be in charge of the decorations–picking the day when everything comes out of the attic or basement or storage bin and making the critical decisions where to put the manger scene and whether we’ll put tinsel on the tree.

The Christian worldview of Christmas trees and decorations, then, includes putting people first, aiming to be considerate and humble, not demanding and selfish.

Are trees and decorations the real meaning of Christmas? Far, far from it. But in and through the process and the enjoyment of the end results, God can be front and center, and wants to be–not by us forcing religious significance to the tree (which can be legitimately done, if a person wants to do it), but by using the occasion to be Christian–to be a worshiper, to be a person who loves and serves others.

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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Six Days, Then Christmas


I love light — starlight, firelight, sunlight, candlelight … You name it, I love it. I remember evenings as a child gazing at the full moon beside my dad. I remember making a special trip to the beach to see an eclipse of the sun (through a pinhole reflected onto a piece of cardboard). I remember sitting around the table in our mountain cabin, staring into the flame of the kerosene lamp.

We had a Christmas tradition involving lights, too. One night during Christmas season, in those years we lived in Colorado, we would drive into downtown Denver to see the Christmas displays covering the grounds of the city and county buildings (see picture above). What glory. An entire block was covered with lights, some part of a Santa scene, others celebrating winter, and still others highlighting a Nativity display (ah, yes, the good old days! 😉 ).

I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the winking and blinking lights. I prefer the steady ones, shining out in the dark. Which brings me to today’s countdown. It’s really the dark that I’m writing about. Of the various things I could focus on connected to six, one stood out last week as I read Mark 15, along with my church as part of our Read the Word plan. This chapter you may recall tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion.

At the third hour — nine in the morning — they crucified Jesus. For six agonizing hours He hung on that cross, but during half of those, the land was shrouded in darkness.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mark 15:33)

In the sixth hour, or noon, the sun should have been its brightest. But it was not. I’ve tried to imagine what this darkness was like. Was it a naturally occurring phenomenon, a complete eclipse perhaps? Or was this supernatural — the kind of darkness the Egyptians experienced as one of the plagues that darkened even their lamps?

However the event took place — the sun was obscured, Luke said — it seems like a physical reality that pointed to a spiritual truth. Jesus, the Light of the world, was rejected by men. His life was being snuffed out in the same way the Jews would extinguish the light of a candle.

And yet … the darkness didn’t last. In fact, it existed only for three hours. And then? The temple veil ripped in two. Jesus died, and in so doing, He defeated sin and Satan and death itself. The Light of the world took on the darkness and prevailed.

And now? God’s flaming light has come to live in the hearts of those who believe on the name of Jesus, the only Begotten Son of God. His great Light has become all these little lights that we are to let shine. Imagine all our lights shining all over the globe right now, some clustered together; some dim; some pulsing through the dark, alone but brighter than any beacon.

What’s more, our light replicates. Where there were two, now there are four. Where there were four, now there are sixteen. That, at least, is how it should be, how it actually is where the Light of the world reigns.

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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