The word “nativity” is derived from the Latin nativus, which means “arisen by birth.” Although technically we could use the word to describe any birth, it has become synonymous with the birth of Jesus. Nativities created as art, models, carvings, or even live demonstrations are common Christmas decorations depicting the night of Jesus’ birth.
Although Christmas Day is celebrated in only twenty-four hours, the immensity of its meaning and significance demands much more time and consideration. We do not know the exact day or even the year of Jesus’ birth, and few believe it was December 25 or even in the winter. The shepherds would unlikely have been out in their fields by night! So this creates a problem with some Christmas carols that speak of snow and cold. Even though our calendar implies that year one is the first year of Christ’s life, most scholars believe the year was somewhere between 6 and 4 BC. Yet the most important issue is not the precise date of when it happened, but that it happened on a precise date. In his book The Truth of God Incarnate, Michael Green defines the incarnation as being “the way and time that God made Himself known specifically and personally by taking our human nature into Himself, by coming amongst us as a particular man, without in any way ceasing to be the eternal and infinite God.”
Many people struggle with understanding or believing in the mystery of the incarnation. Few doctrines are as attacked as this one, and one can sympathize with the challenges. There is nothing in the history of our world that equals the power and mystery of God becoming man, especially to be born in a manger. It is a radical claim. Yet the Bible says it is true, and the doctrine is central to the entire Christian story. If God had not become man, He could not have borne the sin of humankind as a representative man. And if God did not become man, He could not have lived as the perfect human, redeeming once more what it means to be human. In short, if God did not become man, we could not be saved. You must believe in His deity and His humanity, or else you believe in a false Jesus.
In his book God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis observes,
The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, come into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.
God revealed Himself in Jesus. So Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NIV). To deny the incarnation removes the hope for humanity that the Creator God has such love for His creation that He would become one of us. If one can believe in the incarnation, it is possible to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How ironic that the wood of a tender manger or cradle was made of the same substance as the cruel cross. The cradle led to the cross, which reveals the extent to which God would go to save us from our sins.
Allow the songs of Christmas to take you far beyond the manger. As far as we know, only Mary was present at both the cradle and the cross. But by the inspiration and revelation of Scripture so often quoted in these hymns, you can see them both. May the incarnation change your life forever.
Adapted from Hosanna in Excelsis: Hymns and Devotions for the Christmas Season by David & Barbara Leeman (Moody Publishers, October 2020). Used by permission.