Think about the various characters:
- The Gospel of Matthew, focused especially on a Jewish audience, highlights the Gentile wise men who come seeking the true king. Meanwhile, Herod uses the biblical interpretation skills of the chief priests and scribes to try to find and kill the rightful King. Somebody make this guy steward of Gondor!
- The Gospel of Luke speaks of the angels coming to shepherds. Shepherds are very low on the socio-economic scale. We're so accustomed to seeing bathrobe-bedecked children in Christmas plays that the real stink of this profession doesn't hit us. We need scratch -n- sniff Bibles, perhaps, to understand why this profession was not high on the wish list for young professionals in 1st century Palestine. Or perhaps we associate shepherding with David, not realizing that, as youngest brother, he got stuck with this work while his older, taller, better-looking brothers were off doing anything other than being a shepherd. And yet, despite all this, the angels choose to tell shepherds, of all people, that the Messiah and King has been born.
- Animals! This is one of my favorites. It's fitting that donkeys, cattle, and sheep are often included in the nativity sets. Like Balaam's donkey, the point is that the non-human creation sees truth that we often don't, thanks to our sin and pride. We often call these animals "humble" creatures. This label is right on insofar as it emphasizes that only those who are humble can see the wisdom of a king whose cradle is a manger and whose throne is a cross.
Sometimes it is said that we need to take the Gospel to the last, the least, and the lost. If we saw the nativity scene in its biblical light, we'd realize that there's a good chance that the last, least, and the lost have probably already been clued in. The question is whether we'll be humble enough to partake of this nativity and join the feast of God's grace.