Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections on the Manger

     When I was growing up, we did not have the high tech distractions that are so abundant today.  With television, IPADS, IPODS, smart phones, and computers, children today, as well as adults, can become so enamored with things that the babe in a manger can fade away amidst all the slick advertisements.  While we had a television, my parents spent time emphasizing the true meaning of the Christmas celebration and limited the T.V. time.  In fact,  one of the key highlights to our tree trimming was placing the manger scene beneath our tree.  I had the honor to position all the shepherds, kings, and of course, baby Jesus.  I remember spending hours rearranging these figures and looking at them.  I could almost hear the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cows.  Then, on Christmas Eve, we read the Christmas story out of the Bible and placed the crib with Baby Jesus in the manger scene.  This is a vivid memory for me because it was so important in our household.
     As our own children came along, my husband and I continued the tradition of the manger scene because this is the central message of Christmas.  The tree, the decorations are all beautiful, but they do not outshine the birth of the King of Kings.  On Christmas Eve, we carried on the tradition of reading the story of the birth of our Savior to our children.  For us, the manger, not the gifts was the central point of our celebration.  When our children asked why we gave gifts on Christmas, my reply was that God had given us His best gift in the person of baby Jesus.  He was born to die and offer His life for ours.  Therefore, we offer our best (not the most expensive) but a gift of the heart to one another remembering God's gift to us.  How we present Christmas to our children and grandchildren has a tremendous impact on them for a lifetime.
     Often the Bible speaks of not forgetting God in the midst of our celebrations, our successes and the many blessings we enjoy.  Deuteronomy 6:10-15 reads:  "And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give you - with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and other trees that you did not plant - and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  It is the Lord your God you shall fear.  Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.  You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from off the face of the earth."  As God warned Israel, He warns us today.  We are not to lose Him in the tinsel, the toys, the parties, and the trappings of this season.  We are not to take credit for all the blessings we have, and it is so easy to do this.  So what can we do to keep the manger as our center focus this year?
An actual manger
Here are some thoughts to consider.
     First, make an advent calendar with Christ as the focus rather than a countdown to Santa.  Before we had children, a neighbor gave me a felt kit for making a simple Advent calendar.  There were pockets for each day of advent and in each pocket was a symbol representing some Christian quality.  Each day one of our children took out the symbol and pinned it to the outside of the pocket.   We read a short verse and devotion as we counted the days till his birth.  My children loved doing this every year, and vied for the honor of pinning the Christmas star on Christmas day.
     Another way to bring home the meaning of Christmas is to make it a real birthday celebration for Christ by making a cake.  We did this a few times, and the children enjoyed singing happy birthday to the Lord.  Again, it isn't so much about the food as it was about keeping the focus on the Lord.
     To show service and love at Christmas time, we took our children to a nursing home and distributed a small gift to residents along with other home school students.  We sang carols and greeted the residents.  To see the smiles on their faces was a reward in itself.  I know it left an impression on our children about serving others.  In addition to these visits, we blessed a family in need one year and took gifts for all to their home.  It was a lesson in how to share the love of God with others.
     Of course, having a manger set for children and grandchildren to handle is also a great teaching tool to remind them of what this holy day is all about.  Explaining who each of the characters are and what part they played in the story about Jesus also brings to life in the mind of a child the true meaning of the season.
     Last but never least is taking time to worship in fellowship at church.  The heart of our faith is found in the preaching and teaching of God's Word.  Gathering together in the company of saints encourages us, instructs and corrects us.  We must not neglect our call to joint worship for ourselves or our children.  This keeps our focus on the Lord.
     I am certain many of you can add to these activities other ideas which keep the us centered on Christ, but the primary goal is to bring glory to God in sincere worship and praise.  We must never forget the many blessings we have are as a result of God's calling us to salvation through His Son.  He deserves to be the center of all we do as we gather with friends and family this season.  My prayer is that we will allow our light to so shine that men may see the difference that Christ makes in our lives this season  Selah!

Please share your thoughts of how you keep Christ at the center of this season.  I welcome your comments.


Petra said...

" We are not to lose Him in the tinsel, the toys, the parties, and the trappings of this season. " Amen! Thank you for keeping us focused on God's greatest Gift! Blessings!

Barbara Thayer said...

And thank you Petra for your marvelous devotion at your blog and at Becky's! It has been such a blessing to stay focused on our King! I so appreciate your talent as well. May we all encourage one another as we see the day of His appearing drawing nearer!