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Posts Tagged ‘manger scene’

I was in our local shopping centre again, not far from the large nativity scene in the middle of the main walkway, when I heard some children calling out in excitement. They were running here and there and seemed to be by themselves. Then one of them, a little girl, discovered the porcelain figure of the baby Jesus in the manger.

‘Oh look, a baby doll!’ she yelled. ‘I’m going to pick it up.’

Just then, her mum appeared and told her not to, after sending a quick, embarrassed glance my way. I am glad she was not close enough to hear my gasp at what her daughter had started to do, but I’m sure she saw my slightly horrified look. I wanted to tell her it was fine and quite a natural thing for a child to want to do, but they scurried away.

I was not worried that the doll the little girl wanted to pick up represented the baby Jesus, although I suspect that mum felt she might have offended me and others nearby. It is just that—a representation, not some sacred relic. Rather, I was more concerned the doll would smash if the little girl dropped it—and that would have been embarrassing indeed for her mum. But as I continued shopping, my reaction kept niggling me. Had I somehow acted a little like the disciples who rebuked those who brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them? But Jesus’ response had been so gracious.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

I prayed for that little family then. The mother had seemed so harassed and overwhelmed, but it all happened so quickly, there was nothing I could have said to her or done for her. Yet later, as I thought more about this event, I wondered if God had been teaching me a big lesson through it all.

How many times have I figuratively ‘picked up’ Jesus, listened to his words and connected closely with him, only to discard him after a while and rush off to something more exciting or interesting? How many times have I treated Jesus as if he were some mere effigy, instead of someone alive and powerful who loves me and wants to walk with me each day in my life? Even now, am I still like that little girl at times, not understanding or forgetting what that manger scene is all about? Have I truly grasped the enormity of the fact that God sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world out of love for us to save us and restore our broken relationship—forever?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

This Christmas, let’s all carefully ‘pick up’ that baby Jesus, our Saviour, take him into our hearts once again and truly value the gift we have been given—freedom, peace, joy, a loving relationship with God, forever.

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This past week, we celebrated another birthday in our family—our second oldest granddaughter Olivia turned fifteen. This time around, we decided we would have an afternoon tea together instead of our usual dinner, which Olivia seemed happy about—except for one thing. That would mean she could not have her favourite meal ever that Nanna has always made for her birthday.

‘Um, do you think Mac and Cheese would be okay to have at an afternoon tea?’ she asked her mum when told of our arrangements.

Yep, the humble old Macaroni and Cheese dish I learnt to make in Domestic Science classes way back in the early sixties (!) has always been Olivia’s choice of birthday food. It is nothing special at all. Just macaroni and … um … well … cheese … with a layer of breadcrumbs and some white sauce holding it all together. Comfort food personified—and so cheap too.

So what to do? We could hardly have it for afternoon tea. But then I had an idea. I could make some for her anyway and present it to her as a special gift to take home and eat all by herself to her heart’s delight! It might not be quite the same as when freshly made, but I was sure that would be no problem to Olivia.

As I stood in our kitchen cooking this exotic dish, the memories of learning to make it myself in Brisbane when twelve or thirteen came flooding back—and also memories of our granddaughter’s eyes lighting up whenever she spied it on the dinner table. Simple, heart-warming memories of a simple, humble dish. Each year when I would ask Olivia what she wanted for her birthday dinner, I would roll my eyes at her choice and we would laugh together, but she never wavered.

It’s the simple things that can often mean the most, don’t you think? This past week, I decided to put up our Christmas tree and also set out our little nativity scene. Now our nativity scene is very humble indeed. Some of the figures who should be there are missing altogether, while one wise man has a broken arm. There is even an angel with only one wing! But as I set it out, there was something heart-warming about remembering the simple yet profound truth of Christmas—that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born into our world as a humble child in humble surroundings to a humble couple. And that humble event has changed everything.

Then one morning this week, I read the following:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

It’s that love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that makes all the difference, isn’t it? When I come back to this basic truth, all the complexities of the world around me and the things I worry about on a daily basis seem to fade into the background. So this Christmas, may we not get carried away with all the hustle and bustle and commercialism around us. Instead, let’s remember the simple yet profound event at the centre of it all—and be so thankful.

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I thought I was seeing things, as I drove to our local shopping centre. Could that possibly be jacaranda trees blossoming everywhere? Even today, I feel nervous whenever I see them, as these were always a reminder in earlier years that exam time had come! Then I noticed some other trees nearby covered in small, smoky-red flowers. No … surely that could not be Christmas bushes in bloom already?

As I made my way into the shopping centre a few moments later, I looked up and saw Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling everywhere. But … Christmas was months away yet—wasn’t it?

Still bemused, I went to buy a birthday card, only to discover most of the display had been given over to Christmas cards. Then I walked on further and came face to face with a large, fenced-off area where helpers were busy putting the final touches to a big throne at one end. Surely it wasn’t time for children to have their photos taken with Santa? What had happened to all those months since last Christmas?

I headed to the supermarket then—and yep, there near the bread section I saw Christmas puddings and fruit mince pies, while nearby were special shelves of Christmas chocolates. Was this just some ploy to distract or cheer everyone up during COVID19? It couldn’t be time for all that Christmas fare yet. Were we all being duped?

Feeling a little confused and dismayed, I started to head out of the shopping centre. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something nearby in the main thoroughfare. In the midst of all that other Christmas paraphernalia beginning to appear, could that … could that truly be a large nativity scene?

As I stood staring at it, I felt my whole body relax and found myself smiling. In a world that seemed to have gone a little mad, there in front of me was the age-old scene that depicts the true heart of Christmas and speaks of things with eternal significance. With no words at all, it was declaring the truth that the King of Kings came into this world as a humble child, born in a manger, to save us and show us God’s heart of love for this world.

Then it was as if God whispered to me, as I stood there, ‘I’m still here, in the midst of the chaos and confusion in the world right now. I haven’t changed. And I haven’t forgotten you. Don’t worry—don’t be dismayed. I am still the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It’s time for everyone to know this and to remember it this Christmas.’

Yes, maybe we do need to start thinking about preparing for Christmas—soon at least. But as we do, let’s keep our eyes focussed on Jesus, the babe in that manger but also the Son of God, who alone can bring peace to our chaotic world and to us. This difficult and uncertain time will soon pass, but Jesus, our eternal King, will remain—and reign—forever.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

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Jo 12Recently, while strolling through our local shopping centre filled with glitzy Christmas decorations, I noticed a large, boxlike structure in the middle of the main walkway. What could it be? It seemed that whatever was in it was facing shoppers coming from the opposite direction. I went to look—and found a beautiful, big manger scene there, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men all grouped around the baby Jesus. Imagine that! Fancy seeing such a clear reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, right in the middle of all the commercialism the season brings with it!

Yet as I stood there, feeling thankful for such a reminder and grateful to those who had put it there (I think a group of local churches), I also realised this was not my initial response. Instead, I had felt deeply surprised—perhaps even shocked and fearful—that this nativity scene could be where it was. Was anyone really allowed to do such things these days? Who had given permission for this to go ahead? Would people be offended to be reminded about the religious aspect of Christmas?

Wow! As I stopped and reflected a little more, I was shocked all over again at these thoughts that had immediately popped unbidden into my mind. How could someone like me who has been a follower of Jesus for over fifty-five years end up being so easily be influenced by the culture around me and the prevailing anti-Christian stance in our society in general? How had I allowed fear and misgiving to be my first response in this instance, rather than joy and thankfulness?

What a challenge, right there in the middle of the shopping centre! At that point, I felt a determination rise up in me to honour that baby in the manger and to grasp every opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. I can write about God’s love via this blog and my Christmas letter. I can look for openings in everyday conversations to do that. I can pray for God’s love and grace to touch those around me. I can invite others to our special Christmas church services. I can be generous in my giving, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need—the homeless in nearby Parramatta via the gift bags our church arranges, others doing it tough in our community via our Christmas hampers, those affected by drought and fire, those with barely nothing in other parts of the world. I am allowed to do this! I can do this! I must do this!

This Christmas, whatever our society tells us, let’s all be determined, in God’s strength, to do what we can to share the love of God with others—that amazing love shown so clearly in the fact that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and became a man for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Let’s celebrate this Christmas with hope and joy in our hearts. And let’s be at peace too, as we pray for that peace to permeate our world more and more.

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Jo 23There I was, half listening to the news on the car radio as I tried to think of simple Christmas presents for the grandchildren and work out my plan of attack once I reached the shopping centre. Yet, for one moment, I managed to register what the female politician on the radio was saying.

‘We need to stop this—we need an alternate narrative to offer these young people who are turning to terrorism,’ she was saying to those at some high level political assembly.

As I hunted for a car park, that intriguing phrase, ‘an alternate narrative’, kept echoing inside my head. What did it really mean? Would a simpler way of putting it be ‘a different story’ or ‘a different way of doing life’ or perhaps even ‘a better way of looking at things’?

I entered the huge shopping centre and was soon confronted with Christmas bargains and gifts suggestions everywhere. Christmas songs could be heard all over the centre. Christmas T-shirts bearing silly slogans with no connection to the real meaning of Christmas were on prominent display in one large store. I looked around in the centre of the shopping complex, thinking I might see a big nativity scene featured—but no. Only Santa on his throne in a large area set aside where children could be photographed with him. The previous day, I had been pleasantly surprised to find a manger scene set up in one unobtrusive spot, albeit in a rather toned down way, at a smaller shopping centre. But not here at this bigger centre situated in a more multicultural area.

Then it came to me. We already have an ‘alternate narrative’ to offer the young people this politician mentioned. We already have a different story to tell, a different way to offer of doing life. The very reason Jesus came to this earth and lived amongst us was to show us this and provide us with the way to find that life in God. This is the story of Christmas that we are about to celebrate. Yet so often it is nowhere to be heard or seen—or, if it is, it is present or shared in a way that will have very little impact, in order not to offend.

Yes, we have our Christmas carol events, but even with these, that ‘alternate narrative’ so often sounds somehow irrelevant and not quite true. We have our Christmas church services, but who of those young people that politician was talking about will be there? Instead, it seems to me it is up to each one of us who claims to live by that ‘alternate narrative’ to make a difference in this world throughout the whole year as often as we can and in whatever ways God has gifted us and given us the opportunity do so.

Yes, our world desperately needs this ‘alternate narrative’. It is already there and available. But it is so often ignored or not even heard. So I ask myself, am I prepared to write and speak about and live out that different story each day—that ‘alternate narrative’ of peace with God and through God, that old story of Jesus and his love? Are you?

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10b

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