Explaining Christmas

Excerpts from Rev. Tim Smith, Our Humble God

Philippians 2:1-4
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

How do you explain to a child what Christmas is about? Or, where do you find words to describe the infinite love of God overflowing eternity into time? What concepts do you have for grasping it? What images could you use? The wise Thomas Aquinas said that God is mysteriously “above all things by the excellence of His nature….and in all things as the cause of the being of all things.”

Children, as do most of us, understand the concrete that is in front of us. If someone reaches out to pull them up, they understand a helping hand. If someone is bullying them and using hurtful language that crushes their heart, they will look with thanksgiving on that one who intervenes and stands up for them. If another pushes ahead to get to the front of the line, they cheer the adult who walks the offender to the back of the line. Actions always speak loudest when we are trying to convey lofty images.

When God chose to come to earth in human form, God made God’s self real to humanity. It is the unspeakable wonder of Christmas that Francis of Assisi wanted to somehow tell. He longed to help others enter into the ineffable mystery of Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Francis had made a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he saw a humble, limestone cave in which the Son of God might have been born. He returned home overcome by the humility of God joining Himself to our frail, fallen humanity. Francis wanted to communicate this humility to others. So in 1223, in a simple cave outside the Italian town of Greccio, Francis set up the world’s first Christmas crèche. He placed in the cave a wax figure of the Baby Jesus, along with a peasant woman and man dressed like Mary and Joseph, and a few barnyard animals.

So the first Nativity Crèche was created and we have been telling the story of the humanity and humility of our God in visual form ever since.

Prayer: Teach us O Lord, to live after your example every day of our lives, that we will make a difference in this world. Amen.

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