A few nights ago, my mom and I settled onto the couch to watch The Nativity Story. It had been a few years since I’d seen it, so I decided we needed to see it again.
My seven-year-old sister saw the DVD case when I brought it downstairs. “Can I watch that?” she asked.
We’d planned to watch the movie after she went to bed (it’s easier to focus that way), so I told her I’d watch it again with her in the morning.
But then, as Mom and I watched the story unfold, I realized it might be a little much for a kid who plays with a Little People nativity set.
The movie pulls no punches. We see the Massacre of the Innocents – when Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every baby boy who could possibly be the Messiah. We also see bodies hanging on trees after being crucified. And we see childbirth pre-medicine.
So the next day I explained to Ellen that she might need to wait another year or two before watching the movie. Then I had a genius idea: I remembered a music video on YouTube that includes scenes from The Nativity. I gave her my phone and let her watch that.
A few minutes into the video, I remembered why I straight-up sob every time I watch it. Toward the end of the song, after the clips of Joseph and Mary and the newborn Jesus, and after the scene with the shepherds at the manger, it shows clips from The Passion. You know, the really realistic movie about Jesus’ crucifixion.
I quickly told Ellen what was about to happen and that she could stop the video, but she was already drawn into it.
I spared her a childbirth scene, but she saw a messy crucifixion instead. Go ahead and hand me the Big Sister of the Year Award.
Later that day, Ellen and I went out to the garage to look through the big freezer. Worried about her, I asked, “Are you okay? Did that video scare you?”
She thought about it for a minute, then shook her head. “It didn’t scare me,” she said softly, “I just didn’t realize it was all so serious.”
Abandoning the quest for the Pillsbury, I turned to her. “It was very serious. But it’s real. Jesus did all of that because He loves you, El.”
For the first time, she caught a glimpse of a manger scene that wasn’t cozy and warm.She saw Mary and Joseph as actual people, not little cherub-faced plastic figures. She saw a picture of a Savior not clothed in a white robe with a smiling face and children sitting on His lap, but stripped of His garments with a crown of thorns shoved onto his bleeding head. She saw the journey Mary and Joseph had to take and the life Jesus lived and the death He suffered because He loves us.
And while those scenes are just an interpretation of what it might have been like, they quite literally give flesh and blood to history.
They show us the reality that Jesus came to us as a human being, fully God yet fully man. And they remind us of how great the gift of Jesus really is.
Because without Jesus, mankind is separated from God.
When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God said,
“’You may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live…Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.” – Exodus 33:18-23
God also dwelled in a place called The Holy of Holies – the most sacred place – where ordinary men and women were not allowed to go. God spoke through angels and prophets, but not face-to-face with His people.
To see God’s face equaled death because no one in their imperfection could stand before a perfect God and live.
Until one night, when a young girl and her betrothed welcomed a baby boy into the world.
Until the baby’s mother snuggled him warmly in strips of cloth and cradled Him in her arms.
Until she kissed His soft head…
ran a finger over His round cheeks…
…and looked directly into the eyes of God.
All at once, mankind could see God face-to-face. Experience His presence without hiding behind a rock or standing outside a temple curtain. Feel His nearness. Hear His voice.
Can you imagine? Bouncing the God of all creation on your shoulder to calm His tired cries? Counting the fingers that sculpted man from dust and made woman from man’s side?
Swaddling arms that would one day stretch out on a cross to rescue us?
It’s so easy to gloss over what it was like when God became a person. When the incarnation happened, it wasn’t squeaky clean and pretty. That’s what people were expecting.
Instead, A young virgin conceived. Her betrothed planned a divorce. The government ordered a census. A ruler murdered babies. The King of all kings and the Lord of all lords was born in the darkness and nestled in a feeding trough.
It’s the opposite of what we like to imagine, isn’t it? Completely upside-down.
But at the same time, there’s comfort in knowing that, whatever darkness we face, Emmanuel has been there. He’s felt our pain. He came to us as one of us so we could one day live with Him forever.
This Christmas, may you take time to step away from all of the wrapping paper and Christmas cookies and movies, and come close to Jesus, remembering how He came close to us.
May you reflect on the true story that changed the world. And may you let it touch your heart in a profound way, as you consider the reality of Christmas. The Savior stepped down into chaos and subjected Himself to a humble birth and a brutal death to be with us.
Because He loves us.
“All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means, ‘God is with us.'”
– Matthew 1:22-23