So, I live in Minnesota, and after two almost embarrassingly mild winters, we are definitely living up to our reputation of the land of ice and snow this year. This morning the temperature was 30 degrees BELOW zero…without the wind chill. At times like this it is tempting to long for a warmer environment, and I cannot help but think back to last year when my husband and I were in Hawaii for his brother’s wedding. I was enchanted by the sun, the beaches, the waterfalls…a tropical paradise compared to the frozen tundra in which I live.
You might not be surprised by my longing, and I imagine other people in the Northland have the same desire to escape the cold. After all, that’s why swimsuits appear in stores in February. However, I have a difficult time imagining someone tanning herself on the shores of Kauai suddenly say, “You know, I need to take a break from this land of balminess and coconuts. I need to suffer alongside people who have to shovel their sidewalks and scrape their windshields and pray every morning that their cars will start. I better book a flight to the Midwest right now.”
But if it is difficult to imagine someone wanting to trade a white sand beach for a white snow bank, at least the trade would have some benefits. Outdoor activities abound in my neck of the woods, from snowshoeing and cross country skiing to ice fishing and dogsledding. Plus, who wants to drink cocoa and enjoy a crackling fire when it’s 80o outside? Besides, I’m sure if I stayed long enough in Hawaii I’d find some reason to want to leave…in time. We humans can find comfort in most places because we know no place is perfect. We move around and make the most of the land in which we find ourselves. None of us has ever left a perfect place for an imperfect one…except for one Person.
On the first Christmas, when Jesus entered the world, He became God Incarnate in the form of a Jewish baby born to a teenage mom and a laborer dad. He left His Father’s side in Heaven, a place without fault of any kind – a world without anger, grief, despair, greed, troubles, toils, or terrors. A place without laws or material goods of any kind, a world we cannot imagine. But at the predestined time – a moment when the political and social atmosphere in the world was just right – Jesus traded splendor…for squalor. He was born to common earthly parents in a lowly abode and was destined to endure the harsh realities of this planet from infancy to adulthood.
Today Nativity scenes are often romanticized with a radiant, slightly aloof Mary, a confident Joseph, and spotless shepherds. But let’s get real. Mary was more than likely exhausted, Joseph was probably distressed, and the shepherds were probably caked in dust and sheep-generated emissions. A death warrant would soon be out for little Jesus ( Matthew 2:16) , and the family would live as refugees in Egypt for some time. As an adult, Jesus would work (perhaps as a carpenter, as is traditionally thought) to support himself and his mother, and would face everyday trials and temptations just like any other man his age. But once His ministry began, once He set Himself apart as a Teacher, as the Messiah, He faced humiliation, rejection, and, ultimately, execution.
So why would He? Why would someone leave a Paradise a thousand times more pristine and beautiful than Hawaii to live an ordinary life am ong the lowly? Because God is l ove. The oft-quote d verse John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life” (NIV, emphasis mine). Jesus knew what kind of life and death awaited him on this little lump of dirt, but He did not let that keep Him from obeying His Father by sacrificing Himself for us. Original sin separated us from God. Jesus came to reconcile us to Him.
So think of that when you see a Nativity, whether it is portrayed through Sunday School kids in costumes, oil paints on a canvas, or statues in a town square. That beautifully portrayed moment in time was actually dirty and smelly as the King of the Universe lay on a bed of fodder. An audience made of society’s flotsam was the first to behold this baby King, and that was just the beginning of Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. Jesus traded Heaven for the humdrum so He could save humanity.