Thursday, December 24, 2020
As I sit in my living room I am surrounded by reminders of the humble birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this room alone I count eight nativities. In the dining room there are five more on the buffet. The hallway cabinet is topped with three more. Sixteen nativities within ten feet of me, and that’s not all of them.
Under the tree is a black bear nativity. On the mantle is the red Cardinal set we purchased in West Yellowstone. On the lower shelf of the entertainment center are three hand-carved sets from various countries we have visited. One of them is carved into an olive tree log from Israel. But the most precious one to me is right next to me on the end table. The story of how we got it still brings tears to my eyes.
On my last trip to the Philippines over five years ago, I went in search of a nativity to bring home for Denise’s collection. After stopping at multiple shops, including woodworking shops, I discovered that no one in the Philippines had any idea what a nativity set was. I was amazed. After WWII, every missionary organization in the world entered the Philippines to bring their brand of religion to the population. There are churches from well-known denominations to obscure cults on almost every corner in the cities. Yet no one knew about nativities. They were not a marketable product.
When I returned to the Bible College campus, I spoke with the Director and his wife, and shared how discouraged I was that I wouldn’t be able to bring Denise Filipino nativity set. The subject soon changed to more important issues concerning the upcoming Pastor’s Conference where I would be speaking.
Two weeks later the time came for my departure. As I wandered around the campus saying goodbye to all the students and faculty, I was approached by the wife of the director who invited me to the main office.
As I entered the room I was greeted by one of my unofficial Filipino “daughters”, the wife of a good friend. She had a huge smile on her face that spoke clearly of a joyous surprise I was about to experience. She pointed to the table, on which was a neatly wrapped box. I was told to sit down and carefully open it. The two women excitedly took up their positions directly across the table from me where they could get the best view of my reaction.
As I began unwrapping the box I could see and hear the giddiness growing in them. When the paper was removed, I opened the box and looked inside. I immediately began to cry with big tears of joy and appreciation. There in front of me was a one-of-a-kind hand crafted nativity set that the two women had personally made for Denise. Every item in it except the little figurines was made from natural Filipino products. The basket was hand woven from grasses found in the mountains. The wood is native to the region where they live. The hemp was shaped to look like a start shining down on the baby. I slowly took in every detail through tear-swollen eyes.
Hugs flowed as freely as the tears. I don’t think I have ever in my life felt more gratitude for a gift. The ladies helped me repack it for the plane. The preciousness of the gift demanded it not be put in my suitcase. I packed my carry-on backpack into the suitcase and kept the gift on the plane with me.
But this year more than ever, surrounded by all the precious nativities in our home, I realize that they are all just simple reminders of a gift far more precious – God’s gift of Jesus Christ to us and for us. This nativity is my favorite reminder. Of all the nativities on display, it is the one that draws the least attention from people. It is simple. It does not stand out and draw attention to itself. It is the perfect reminder of the arrival of Jesus.