The nativity scenes that surround us this time of year probably seem as natural to us as Christmas trees and carols. However, if you have ever researched the nativity scene, or simply looked a little closer at the details in the Gospels, you may have discovered that the scene depicted in most nativities most likely did not happen all on one night. Nonetheless, the traditional characters in the nativity scene offer us insight into how we approach God, and in so doing give us a recipe for a good Christmas. Consider the following five characters.
First, consider Joseph. When Mary became pregnant Joseph had every reason to abandon her, or even worse, make her a public spectacle and object of scorn. Instead, Joseph sought to quietly end their engagement. However, God led him to stay with Mary. Joseph did not have the spectacular revelation that some of the characters in the nativity scene had. He only had a simple dream. But that was enough for him to trust God. Joseph did not know how this whole situation would end, whether or not he and Mary would be able to salvage their reputation and honor. But he had some simple instructions from God, and that was enough for him to wait and see what God would do with the situation. In Joseph we learn that our lives are in God’s hands, and no matter how little we understand His plans we know that we can trust God enough to wait on Him.
Second, consider Mary. Much can be said of Mary. She was visited by an angel, she was said to be highly favored by God, and of course she was chosen to birth and raise the Christ-child. However, what could be missed is her simple willingness. When the angel explained to her that she would conceive through the Holy Spirit her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Like Joseph she was not concerned with worries. She made herself available for the Lord to work in a new way. In Mary we learn that God conceives His plans in hearts that are willing to allow Him to do His unique work in them.
Third, consider the shepherds. Often when we think of the shepherds we think of simple, humble people. A point could be argued about the lowly state of the shepherds. However, there is something else that we typically ignore. After the shepherds had gone and found Joseph, Mary and Jesus, we are told that “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17). These shepherds were neither reclusive nor so self-centered to only get excited about what God was doing in their personal lives. In the shepherds we learn that God expects us to be witnesses to God’s good work in the world around us.
Fourth, consider the wise men. It is hard to hear the title wise men and not think of the wisdom that they possess. Obviously, these wise men from the east had earned their moniker. They had discerned the birth of the Messiah through careful study of the stars. However, it was not their wisdom in finding Jesus that shines brightest, but their response to Jesus upon seeing Him. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:8). In the wise men we learn to develop more than gifts and talents, but also a heart that humbly worships God.
Fifth, consider Jesus. We all know the saying, overused to the point of sounding cliche. Jesus is the reason for the season. But it is more than a saying, and it is not a cliche. In Jesus we learn to remember that He is the way.
So, if you’re looking for a recipe for a good Christmas consider these five ingredients, inspired from the nativity scene. (1) Trust God enough to wait on Him, like Joseph. (2) Have a heart that is willing to allow God to do unique things in you, like Mary. (3) Be a witness to God’s good work in the world, like the shepherds. (4) Have a heart that humbly worships God, like the wise men. (5) Remember that Jesus is the way.