My wife has a fondness for miniature nativities, or manger scenes, as they are sometimes called. Twenty-five years ago she made small nativity figurines as gifts for her family. She sculpted them from clay, painted them at the kitchen table, and then baked them in the oven. Her sister still displays her set every Christmas.
There are many things we can celebrate at Christmas, the most essential being the gift of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. To paraphrase a beautiful promise in the book of Daniel, the closer we grow to Him, the more His wisdom will “shine as the brightness of the firmament in us,” and His righteousness through us “as the stars forever and ever.”1 Remembering to pause and take those moments to acknowledge Him allows His Spirit to flow freely in our lives and replaces the stress and strain that bottles up our joy. All we have to do is let that peace flow in, and He goes to work helping it shine out to others.
I am not a fabrication, a figment of the imagination, or a fable. I am real—and I am what you need. I can give you comfort in place of anxiety, faith in place of fear, rest in place of struggle, peace in place of worry, happiness in place of sadness, and answers to your questions. I can be your strength, your help in time of need, your friend and companion. That doesn’t mean you will never have another problem or challenge in life, but I can help you with life’s problems.
I’ve always especially liked Easter. While Christmas is a celebration of joy and excitement for the entire world to take pleasure in—even non-Christians—I feel Easter is a celebration of what Jesus did for each of us as individuals.
Easter is all about the relationship between Jesus and me. As a child, I never understood this relationship. Jesus was my friend, sure, but it didn’t really go beyond that. I guess I sort of saw Jesus as a “get out of jail free” card, someone who was there to be leaned on, but only when necessary.
The other day, I found myself sitting in a restaurant alone, as my friend was running late. As I waited, I decided to jot down some thoughts about what Jesus means to me and what I love most about Him. This is what I came up with:
Each year, when Easter comes around, I find myself overwhelmed by the thought of what Jesus went through for us. So much suffering, anguish, and pain He took in the hours before His cruel execution. Not to mention the mental distress of knowing what was coming. Yes, He knew the purpose behind it all, but it was clearly still terrifying. In fact, Jesus requested an exemption from the cross.1
“Who lives in a stable?”
“Jesus lives in the stable!”
At first I laughed at that answer my four-year-old sister gave during my impromptu lesson on animals and their habitats. But her answer kept coming back to me. Jesus lives in the stable. Was that the only place she saw Jesus come alive for me?
It was wintertime and I had just arrived in the state of Goa, the former Portuguese colony on the southwest coast of India. I was a long way from my home country of Brazil, but right away I made friends with a young mixed-faith couple—he was Catholic and she was Hindu—whose marriage had been rejected by both their families. They had opened a small restaurant right on one of the beaches popular with backpack tourists, where they let us sleep at night.
When the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him. His Son obeyed the Law, so he could set us free from the Law, and we could become God’s children.1
God sent His Son into the world at a specific time and place to live as a human being, to die on a cross, and to be raised from the dead to redeem fallen humankind, so that humanity would have the opportunity to enter into His kingdom and into a special relationship with Him.
The Gospel of John doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth, but it tells us the prequel—the story that precedes what we are told in the birth narratives. This Gospel takes us back to the beginning, before our world existed, and tells us something about our Savior that was true well in advance of His earthly birth in Bethlehem two millennia ago. Understanding this part of the story is what brings clarity to who Jesus was, why He came, and what He accomplished.