Sunday, December 8, 2019

"The Nativity" and Details Large and Small

We’ve made it to the second week of Advent. I’m not exactly sure which theme I want to follow this week, but I know that I want it to be pre-Bethlehem. There is so much to cover before Mary and Joseph arrived, looking for a place for Jesus to be born: the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the annunciation, Mary’s response, the birth of John the Baptist, the angel’s announcement to Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem . . . yet Nativity picture books often jump right to the manger.

When I was younger and already a budding history nerd, I remember pouring over my family’s Christmas books, looking for any hint of what life was really like for Mary and Joseph during “Bible times.” I wanted to flesh out the story recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I wanted to know the details.

There were a few that quenched my curiosity, with added dialogue and a slightly more plot lines, but then there were others that used Scripture as the text, and chose to inspire the imagination through illustration. Today's book is one of these:

The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas. Vivas is most well-known for illustrating Sue Williams’ storytime favorite, I Went Walking. But in this spin on the Christmas story, she stands above the rest. I remember pouring over the whimsical images with awe and delight. Here, some of the details of the Christmas story weren’t even present, but the book had the same impact as the other stories filled to the brim with characters, scenery, and dialogue.

Why? one might ask. After some thought, I think I have an idea.

There is a saying that goes, “God is in the details.” He completely is. But when we look at our own lives, and even the lives of those in the Nativity story, the details of God’s plan are often left concealed. God is ever-working, but in His sovereignty, designs it so that we don’t get to see the full blueprint. He does this so that we have to trust and follow. Not blindly, but by a faith built on thousands of years of Scripture’s promises.

The prophets foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Zechariah and Elizabeth discovered their son would herald the Lord’s coming. Mary and Joseph were told they got to be Christ’s parents. Simeon and Anna received a promise they’d get to see the Savior face-to-face. But how would they get from point A to B?

God always has a way of showing us the way. In the Christmas story, he used prophets and angels, government censuses and brilliant stars, dreams and conniving kings. When we read about Christ’s coming, in both the simple and complex text, we see a bit of our own lives. And if we are wise, we realize the more complicated versions don’t actually offer a different story than those told with bold splashes of color across the page. God wrote the story. He alone knows the full outline. In His mercy He has shown us the beginning, the middle, and the end. For the rest, we have faith.

If we follow the pattern of Hebrews 11: By faith, Mary and Joseph accepted God’s plan, traveled the road, and welcomed the King. Can we do the same?

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