What is the meaning and purpose of a Christmas nativity?
A Christmas nativity is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of the Christmas season. The word nativity is taken from the Latin nativus, which means "arisen by birth." Nativities are art, models, carvings, or live demonstrations depicting the night of Jesus' birth. These scenes generally contain the same elements: the Christ child in a manger; His mother, Mary; His earthly father, Joseph; shepherds; angels; various barn animals; and sometimes three wise men.
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Saint Francis of Assisi created the very first nativity scene in 1223 in an effort to promote the true meaning of Christmas and worship of Jesus Christ. His idea caught on, and soon a new Christmas tradition was born. Today, it's almost impossible for one to go through the Christmas season without seeing a nativity scene in front of a church, in a Christmas play, decorating someone's yard, or placed in model form on a fireplace mantel.
In spite of the nativity's popularity, there are a few theological errors in many of them. First, most nativity scenes are set in a stable or cave. While this may have been where Jesus was born, it's just as likely that Jesus was born in the lower level of a home, amongst animals who were brought inside for the night (the Greek word for "inn" (kataluma), found in Luke 2:7, can also mean "house"). In addition, the angels that are often shown hovering over the stable in a nativity were likely not there, at least not visibly. The angels' part in the Christmas story took place in a field, where they announced Jesus' birth to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:8–14). Finally, although the wise men often appear in a nativity, they did not visit Jesus the night of His birth. The magi visited Jesus some time later, when He was a toddler (Matthew 2:1–11).
In spite of the discrepancies, the most important thing about a nativity is its message to the world: Because our sin requires a perfect sacrifice before a holy and just God, our Heavenly Father sent His own Son to earth as a man so that He could become that sacrifice (John 3:16). The child who was born to Mary and laid in a manger would one day grow up to die on a cross and rise again so each and every person who believes in Him may receive forgiveness for sin and eternity in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4).
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