Bethlehem Nativity scene purposefully in ruins

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The most notable Nativity scene in Bethlehem this Christmas

December 26, 2023 -

A man decorates a nativity scene with rubble around symbolizing the destruction in Gaza and white sheets referring to the dead civilians, in Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2023. Bethlehem is having a subdued Christmas after officials in Jesus' traditional birthplace decided to forgo celebrations due to the Israel-Hamas war.(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

A man decorates a nativity scene with rubble around symbolizing the destruction in Gaza and white sheets referring to the dead civilians, in Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2023. Bethlehem is having a subdued Christmas after officials in Jesus' traditional birthplace decided to forgo celebrations due to the Israel-Hamas war.(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

A man decorates a nativity scene with rubble around symbolizing the destruction in Gaza and white sheets referring to the dead civilians, in Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2023. Bethlehem is having a subdued Christmas after officials in Jesus' traditional birthplace decided to forgo celebrations due to the Israel-Hamas war.(AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Santa Claus delivered 7,883,693,263 gifts around the world yesterday, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which has been tracking his movements each year since 1955. But Christmas isn’t over in Rovaniemi, Finland, where the holiday is celebrated 365 days a year and you can visit Mrs. Claus any time you wish. Towns in Iceland, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Michigan, and Canada similarly participate in Christmas all year long.

Things were far different in the home of the first Christmas, where streets in Bethlehem were deserted and stores were shuttered after churches canceled celebrations due to the war between Hamas and Israel. Presiding at Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis said, “Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world.”

The most notable Christmas decoration in Bethlehem was a large Nativity scene in ruins, with shepherds climbing piles of rubble and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph huddled in the midst of destruction.

While I understand the pope’s sentiment, I think the Nativity scene in Bethlehem is more correct. Nothing humans do can prevent Jesus from “finding room in the world.” To the contrary, he is just as present on this day after Christmas as he was on that first Christmas two millennia ago.

Even more so, in fact, in ways that are deeply hopeful and urgent for our world and our souls.

Crossing the Delaware, changing the world

George Washington, along with 2,400 soldiers, successfully crossed the icy and freezing Delaware River on Christmas Day in 1776. The next morning, he won the first major US victory in the War for Independence.

Many believe Christmas is still relevant in the same way—an historic event we remember with gratitude for the One who was born into our world to die for our sins. St. Augustine asked, “What greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become a son of God?”

Others who do not recognize the saving purpose of Christmas nonetheless might seek spiritual lessons in its story. They see it as a religious tradition or myth which, as psychologist Carl Jung suggested, “channels some great truth beyond itself.” And still others celebrate Christmas for its secular traditions that bring them together as families and friends.

Whether you see yesterday’s celebration as a holy day or a holiday, if you’re like most people, when the decorations go back into their boxes over the next few days and we return to the “real world,” Christmas will be over.

How can we do “greater works” than Jesus?

But consider this: When you made Christ your Lord, the Holy Spirit of God came to live in your body just as fully as Jesus came to live in his earthly body (1 Corinthians 3:16). Now Jesus is continuing his earthly life and ministry through you:

  • As he was born in Bethlehem, you were “born again” at your salvation (John 3:3). Now “Christ [is] in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
  • As he prayed to his Father when he was on earth, now his Spirit prays through us (Romans 8:26).
  • As he healed bodies through his hands, he heals now through ours (cf. Acts 3:7).
  • As he preached the gospel, now he sends us to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17).
  • As he returned to heaven, he will one day take us to heaven (John 14:3).
  • As he will return to our planet one day (Acts 1:11), so “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17).
  • In the meantime, as Jesus was present with his first followers, so he is present with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In short, you and I are literally “the body of Christ” continuing Jesus’ ministry as his hands and feet in our world (1 Corinthians 12:27).

But there’s even more: Jesus promised that after he returned to his Father, we would do “greater works” than he did (John 14:12). He did not mean “greater” in power but in extent—he was limited to a single body when he walked on our planet, but today he is living in billions of Christians around the globe.

Imagine a world in which every Christian thought with the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), spoke with the wisdom of Christ (Colossians 2:3), lived with the character of Christ (Romans 8:29), and loved with the compassion of Christ (John 13:14–15).

This is the world Jesus wants to create through you and me today.

“God manifest in the flesh”

In his Christmas Day meditation, Oswald Chambers observed:

The characteristic of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me. Immediately Christ is formed in me, his nature begins to work through me. God manifest in the flesh—that is what is made profoundly possible for you and me by the Redemption.

Will you “yield yourself so completely to God that Christ is formed” in you? Every day you do, Christmas comes again.

And our world can never be the same.

NOTE: In addition to The Daily Article, Denison Ministries produces First15, a daily devotional experience with God; Foundations with Janet, a Bible study resource for individuals and small groups; and Christian Parenting, resources to help parents raise children to know and love the Lord. These ministries are intended to work collectively to build a movement of culture-changing Christians as a catalyst for spiritual awakening and moral transformation. I encourage you to try them today.

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