I first shared a version of this post in December 2015, when Natalie was younger than Hope is now. I found it recently and, as I reread what I had written five years ago, I thought it would be worth sharing again.
I never could have imagined, when I first wrote those words, what the next five years would bring. That two years later I’d spend most of December shuttling back and forth to the hospital as our newborn baby recovered from her first heart surgery. Or that the following year we’d start December in the hospital again, this time in Boston as Hope recovered from her second open heart surgery.
And who could have guessed what this year would bring for families across the world?
In some ways the words I wrote five years ago seem simple, the reflections written from a time in my life that was certainly more simple than now. And yet that doesn’t make them any less true. Instead I find them even more comforting, a reminder of God’s steadfast love for us, no matter what else happens in our lives and our world. I hope you will too.
The wise men are falling over, there’s a tree floating above the manger, and the camel is crooked.
Yesterday Natalie and I put a sticker nativity scene up on the wall. I did some to get her started then let her place the rest on her own. I wanted her to enjoy doing it independently, but it took a conscious effort on my part not to stop her and “fix” it. I wanted to straighten out those wise men and guide her little hand to a better spot for the tree. But I resisted and let her just have fun.
As I walked by it last night on my way to bed, I spotted that crooked camel and smiled. I love these moments with my little girl.
Beyond that, though, I felt a gentle reminder from God… our little nativity scene isn’t perfect, but neither is this world that God sent His Son into.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the sweet pictures in our Christmas books and the friendly looking animals that sit beside my nativity scene on the shelf. But I know that Jesus’ entrance into this world wasn’t so neat and pretty. And while I love to sing along to Silent Night I’m pretty sure that, between the newborn infant and the multitude of angels proclaiming the news to the shepherds, it wasn’t so silent!
Jesus came into the world just like any other newborn baby would, messy and crying. His head didn’t radiate light like some of the drawings we see. And I doubt these words from Away in a Manger – “the cattle are lowing the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes” – are very accurate.
God didn’t rearrange or “fix” things in the world to pave an easy path for His Son. Jesus lived a real human life, right from the start.
Yes, Jesus was God incarnate and He lived a sinless life. That fact is essential to His saving work for us on the cross. But He was also fully human. At Christmas we can celebrate the joy of Jesus’ coming, not only because He brought salvation but also because He loves us so much that He became like one of us.
I think of the words from Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And those in Philippians 2:8, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What an amazing gift for us to know that Jesus humbled Himself and lived in this world, setting an example for us and providing comfort and strength for the difficulties we face in our lives.
Let us never forget the hugeness of the sacrifice that was made when Jesus came to earth. This is an imperfect place, a messy place, a place where things aren’t often neat or pretty. And Jesus – God’s Son – came here to live among us… crooked camels and all!