It is a sign as sure as Santa on a sleigh or trimmed trees on display.
I know Advent is almost here when I see so many churches advertising their special Christmas productions. Costumes, carols, and crèches transform sanctuaries into reruns of the Story behind all the stuff we call Christmas.
Among the most frequent of these productions is the Living Nativity.
The idea behind this is similar to the Civil War reenactments famous throughout the south. We dress up like characters from the Biblical events surrounding Jesus’ birth and replay the story.
Really good ones have live animals…cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and the occasional ugly camel.
The best ones have a real baby as Jesus. Not a fake doll, but a wiggly, squealing infant. Imitation babies never seem real enough–not even the ones that make a pretend mess in their diapers.
We want reality in these reproductions.
The goal is to make the coming of Christ–the Advent–more real and visceral to the modern mind. Back to the future at its best.
Except, we may be missing the point all together.
What we need is a more real reality.
Now I’m not a Scrooge who has a problem with people dressing up like Hebrew shepherds, Middle-Eastern Magi or Nazarene carpenters. Whatever helps people connect with the authentic humanity of Jesus is good in my book. So bring on some hay and a petting zoo.
Actually, I think God loves a good Christmas production. After all, He did the first one.
I just think for us today there is a better kind of Living Nativity.
You see, “Nativity” points to your place of origin. We get “native” from the same Latin word.
So the Nativity as it relates to Jesus is when God became a naturalized citizen of our planet. The blessed event when HE moved into the neighborhood.
God put on skin and got all up in our business. The Trinity confining and defining itself in flesh and blood.
John, the New Testament writer, described it like this:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14, MSG)
Jesus was what God looks like when God looks like us.
But His longing is more than simply one expression of God incognito. He wants a whole lot of Jesus walking our streets and driving our highways.
When He enters a life by the real presence of His Spirit, He wants to change that life into His likeness.
We are also supposed to be what God looks like.
Paul said it this way: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
A living nativity is not about reenacting His birth circumstances with lowing cattle, braying donkeys or spitting camels.
It is about God once again invading humanity. This time, through our skin. Individual incarnation. We are the stables; our hearts, the manger. Ours is the wonder of the breathless shepherds, the gifts of the Eastern Magi and the awesome song of the angelic choir.
All creation sings when we get this. Because once again Jesus appears in the rub and reality of the real world.
Even in its fallen state, the natural realm has not forgotten what it was like to have God walking its soil in the cool of the day. It longs to feel that again through the soles of our feet.
“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19)
While they are enjoyable and may have their place, what our world needs is not another realistic rerun of Bethlehem. It needs credible expressions of God in the flesh.
We are the Living Nativity.