This holiday season has me thinking about my mother-in-law, who passed away a few years ago. She and her husband, who passed away soon after her, lived humbly and loved their family deeply. Not with pomp or excessive adulation, but with the simplicity and modesty in which they lived. I loved them very much and couldn’t have asked for better in-laws.
In the years I knew her, she would put up an artificial tree on an end table that may have been 3 feet tall to usher in the season. It had few ornaments but enough for my baby girl to appreciate in her toddler years when we’d come over for a visit. This tree didn’t have presents under it; instead what lay under its artificial branches was a simple crèche of baby Jesus and his mother and earthly father. It wasn’t really anything to look at. Quite the same as the tree it rested under.
Still, there was something about it. One Christmas, she shared with me what that something was, and it began to change the Christmas story for me in a significant way.
She told me why this Nativity scene was so special to her. Jesus was not looking up at Mary and Joseph as he is often portrayed. He was looking out toward her, toward her family when they visited, toward me as I listened to her explain this significance to me. With a catch in her breath, and tears in her eyes, she said Jesus was reaching out to her personally, and that is why this particular Nativity was so meaningful.
Because of her explanation, it was as if Jesus was also saying to me through his posture in this unassuming Nativity scene,
Child, I came for you, not just my mother, Mary, and my earthly father, Joseph. I came for your daughter.Your husband. Your friends and family. Just as I have come for your mother-in-law, who understands this truth in all its glory. And my invitation is to everyone.
I knew this truth before, but early on in my Christian faith, I approached Jesus’ invitation to me and to others differently than what was represented in this Nativity scene.
I was a more “law” driven Christian. Full of do’s and don’ts for not only myself, but for others. Over the last several years, I’ve come to see Jesus as full of grace and truth with his arms wide open to all who would receive him with an invitation of love and not of condemnation.
You see, the Bible teaches that God did not come into the world as this infant babe in order to condemn it because it was condemned already (John3:17). He came into this world as one of the most fragile and vulnerable beings, a newborn infant, to invite us into a relationship with him in order that we might be reconciled to himself and therefore no longer under condemnation.
As if that wasn’t enough, in this manger scene under my mother-in-law’s tree, it was also as if Jesus was saying, And I give you all of me.
It is this precious truth and this beautiful posture under that artificial tree that I am meditating on this Christmas season—the gift of himself that he offered to me and I received many years ago. A gift for which nothing compares. A gift I am still unwrapping.
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