by Marti Pieper
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 ESV
One of my favorite souvenirs from our family’s more than 50 short-term mission trips is a growing collection of international nativities. It began when, a number of years ago, I told my five children I had enough keychains and other throwaway gifts.
My nativity collection now totals more than thirty of these thoughtful replicas of Jesus’s birth, made from materials as diverse as pewter, olive wood, baked clay, glazed porcelain, corn husks, and more. I display them throughout the year and have also used them as centerpieces at church functions such as missions fundraising dinners. And on the occasions when I speak about serving on the mission field, some or all of the nativities come along as a part of my display.
I especially love the way each nativity reflects the culture that created it. The Guna set shows authentic clothing and headdresses, replicated in clay, from the jungles of Panama. The Brazilian nativity rests inside a gourd found in that country, and the woven clothing of the Guatemalan figures features the broad stripes and bright colors characteristic of those worn by the Mayan people. In the Ecuadorian grouping, even baby Jesus wears a pointed Quechua hat.
When Jesus came to dwell among us, of course He did not come as a Guna, a Brazilian, a Mayan, or a Quechua any more than He came as the Caucasian infant so much of our North American art reflects. But this all-God and all-man identifies with us in much more significant ways than even our race.
Christ knows our pain, our sorrow, and our temptation, yet he loved us enough to die on our behalf. He understands, even weeps over, the hurt and pain we experience. Although he did not for one moment cease being God, he willingly gave up his place in heaven and, the Bible says, “emptied himself” to become a servant, born as a human infant.
Jesus was equal in every way to God the Father, but he did not grasp or cling to this identity. He had every right to call angels to his defense or shatter his enemies with a single word, but he did not choose to do so. Instead, he came to earth as a helpless infant, knowing full well he would ultimately suffer the shame and indignity of a blood-soaked cross.
I’m grateful Jesus came in the likeness of men, as a tiny, wailing infant born to die. And I’m even more grateful that after that cruel death, he was raised to life on our behalf. Because of his supreme sacrifice, we will one day experience the glories of the heaven he left behind for a short but significant season. As we celebrate Christmas, let us celebrate all his birth, his life, and his death mean to us—every day.
About the author: Marti Pieper’s eclectic publishing career includes writing two award-winning missionary memoirs including Out of the Dust along with five other nonfiction books. Find her at www.martipieper.com, where her “Snapshots of Dementia” blog offers transparent glimpses of life with her husband, who suffers from an early-onset dementia.
Join the conversation: What comes to mind when you look at your nativity set?