My mother collects Nativity sets from all over the world. I was helping her out the other day and stopped to look at each collection. One of them is from when she was a child. Another came from when my brother and I were young. Several were handmade as gifts for her and my father — some from wood, others clay and others plastic.
Each of the Nativity sets in my mother’s collection looks different. Some remind us of how people might have looked in Israel at the time. Some are from Central America. Others are from Asia. And yet others are from Africa.
They are remarkable reminders that God sent his Son to earth, so we could relate to him as a human being and ultimately, through his blood, be saved from our sins. As clearly stated in John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Of all the living things on earth, only human beings are made in the image of God. He loved us so much that he sent his Son to live as a human being to save the world.
Tonette and I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem years ago. It is a beautiful place. We walked through a very low entrance called the Door of Humility, which appropriately forces each visitor to bow on the way in.
The location where they believe that Jesus was born — the Grotto of the Nativity — is an underground crypt below the front of the church. The exact spot is marked with a silver star with 14 points and an inscription in Latin: “Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est.” This translates into “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary” in English.
Obviously, the landscape more than 2,000 years ago was much different from where the Church of the Nativity stands today. Still, it was awesome to be where we believe our Savior was born on Christmas Day.
Long before the birth of Christ, we read in the Old Testament about Isaiah saying, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” So many of us have read the story of Christ’s birth as described in the Gospel of Luke: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them.”
After several visits to Israel, I was reminded of the distance between where they lived in Nazareth, to the north, all the way to Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem. The trip is about 90 miles and would take more than three days for a regular traveler — let alone with someone a week away from labor. During that time of year, it would be cold during the day and freezing at night. Wild animals and dangerous robbers were constant threats.
Hungry and tired from an exhaustive trip, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and found no place for them to stay. Mary then went into labor while staying in the area where the locals kept their animals. Instead of entering the world as would a king at the time, Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances and lived a life of service to others along with faithful obedience to our Heavenly Father.
The love that God has for each of us is made clear in the gift he gave to each of us on Christmas Day with the birth of his Son. The various Nativity sets on display at my mother’s home are vivid reminders that Jesus connects to each of us — regardless of what we look like or where we live.
From our family to yours, Tonette and I wish to tell you about a gift that requires no batteries, never wears out, and doesn’t require a warranty. It’s the gift of salvation through Jesus. It doesn’t cost a thing. All you have to do is say yes.
• Scott Walker is the president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.