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In Defense of Nativity Scenes...


The Adoration of the Christ ChildYou don’t have to look far these days to see it: Scenes remembering the nativity of Our Lord are under attack.

At the Iowa Capitol last December, a Bill of Rights “nativity” scene is placed with a notation, “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, join us in honoring the Bill of Rights, adopted on December 15, 1791, which reminds us there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent." It ends with: "Keep religion and government separate!"

In Washington, two locals had erected a nativity display in Gig Harbor's Skansie Brothers Park for years until an objection from the Freedom From Religion Foundation caused the city to have it removed.

In Indiana, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Indiana in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit, challenging an annual live nativity performance at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.

And on and on.

Why is this beloved symbol under attack?

The nativity of Jesus, described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, marks the incarnation of Jesus, as the second Adam. This is in fulfillment of the divine will of God, undoing the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam. 

The nativity plays a major role in the Christian liturgical year, and so scenes recalling the nativity are not surprisigingly under attack.

It’s precisely because of the nativity’s importance to us as Christians that it’s under attack.

The Indiana lawsuit stated that plainly. The lawsuit alleged that the annual high school nativity performance and the reading of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus are "well-recognized symbols of the Christian faith. Their presence at the Christmas Spectacular is coercive, represents an endorsement of religion by the high school and the school corporation, has no secular purpose, and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion."

After winning this lawsuit, ending 45 years of nativity scene performances, the FFRF and ACLU appealed the decision — even because they succeeded in barring the performances — so that static nativity scenes also would be banned.

So what makes this symbol so important that people will organize to remove it?

The most important feature of the nativity is its message to us: Our transgressions against God call for a sacrifice that we cannot pay. In infinite mercy, our Heavenly Father sent His only Son to earth to be incarnated as man so He would become that sacrifice (John 3:16). The child born to Mary, laid in a manger, one day would die on a cross in recompense for our sins (1 Peter 1:3-4).

As the Indiana lawsuit itself acknowledged, the Christmas nativity is probably one of the most recognizable signs of the Christmas season. Nativities scenes today appear in art, designs, carvings and live demonstrations.

The artistic depiction of the nativity has been an important subject for Christian artists since the fourth century.

Artistic and creative representations of the Nativity or birth of Jesus are based upon the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and also Luke.

It’s likely that the nativity scene in early centuries was also depicted by human actors in “tableaux vivants.” And then in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi created a nativity scene in an effort to promote the meaning of Christmas and to promote the adoration of Christ.

With St. Francis’s promotion of the nativity scene, the idea went viral. Well, viral in 13th century terms. The Christmas practice grew. And so the practice grew to the point where it's nativity scenes are placed before churches, in plays, in front yards and under Christmas trees. And still, today, despite being under attack, in some public places.

Today, most nativity scenes are set in a stable or cavern. There we see Mary and Joseph, and the babe Jesus. Often in sculptures and figurines, the babe Jesus is removable, so that while Mary and Joseph may be placed in the scene before Christmas, the babe Jesus may be placed in the scene at Christmas, commemorating His birth.

Although not visible to human eyes at Christ’s birth, angels often are depicted in nativity Wise men also often are depicted in the scenes, although the wise men were not with Jesus the night of His birth.

The scale of the figurines today can vary from miniature to life-sized. Nativity scenes may be made of porcelain, plaster, plastic or even cardboard. What each has in common is recalling us to remember God made man.

The physical depiction of the nativity of Our Lord is a recognition that we, too, are body and soul. And as we gaze on the image of Christ Our Lord in the nativity scene, we recall what a good and loving God we have.

Even Christ’s own time, He was under attack from His time as an infant until His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. So we ought not be surprised at the attacks on the nativity scene today, which spreads the Good News of our salvation.

Yes, the nativity scene today is under attack.

My reponse? I will adore Him!

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