crib shadowsI wonder how much time and resources have been invested in nativities across the world this Christmas as schools and churches follow the nativity tradition? A quick browse of social and more traditional media shows that these vary from the simplest of performances to Hollywood style productions. While it is evident that many conform to the Biblical message, there are those that depart from what we know in an apparent attempt to entertain an audience or comply with other agendas. The danger is that the message is lost when the nativity becomes a Christmas show.

But what is the message? Yesterday as I was locking up our church after the evening carol service I looked up at the illuminated cross on the far wall. The lighting around the cross casts just enough light to allow the duty deacon to walk through an otherwise dark church to the exit door from the sanctuary when closing. Beneath the cross there was a silhouette of two characters kneeling at a crib, just in front of the baptistry. I was struck by the simplicity of the imagery, a reminder that Christmas is not show time. It may have begun with angelic visitations, and an inexplicably bright star that guided a group of ancient astrologers to the birthplace of Jesus, but the arrival of God’s son was one of the least complex events of history.

God quite deliberately chose Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, astrologers, and an elderly prophet and prophetess. These were not actors on a stage, but ordinary people who lived unexceptional lives. Yet God chose them. Then God challenged them, and God changed them. How could they not be changed by such encounters with the Creator through His messengers, and then through seeing and touching His Son? No longer conformed to the world but transformed. Changed forever.

We may not be certain about the nature of the crib, which we believe to have been a feeding trough, or whether Jesus was born in a stable, a barn or a cave. But we can be certain about the cross. The real message of Christmas is easily concealed. Christmas was the beginning of a journey that appeared to end at the cross. Both the birth and death of Jesus were the fulfilment of ancient prophecies. They are events that cannot and must not be ignored, watered down or turned into musical extravaganzas. Jesus Christ was not a superstar but the Son of God. He chose to humble Himself in birth, in life and in death.

We too have a choice. Put simply, we can choose to follow Him or we can choose to turn our backs on Him. To choose to follow means to be challenged and to face challenges. To choose to follow means to be changed, to be transformed. Not just once, but continually. No longer conformed to the world, but completely different. So simple, yet apparently so difficult. Are you prepared to be transformed this Christmas, or are you happy to be conformed to the pattern of this world?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)