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Why I can say, ‘Merry Christmas’

Please italicize “ever” in note form about a fourth of the way through.

Early this Christmas season, I attended a wreath-making class taught by my friend, Cindy Knight (of heirloom tomato fame).

“Semi-retired” now, I was excited to do something I’ve wanted to for years. I’m so thankful for that it almost seems like it’s still Thanksgiving.

I’m also grateful I could stay home and off the roads during the recent cold snap. (You should be thankful, too — I’m not the best cold-weather driver).

I’m fairly settled in my new home but still have lots of “little” things to find places for. So most of my Christmas decorations are at my daughter Carolyn’s home. But I want to bring home my collection of nativity sets.

I’ve never done much collecting. (Carolyn would disagree — she helped empty out my former home, and I have a vague memory of her asking that last day something like, “Mom, how did you ever collect so much stuff?”)

But I have — purposely — collected nativity sets. I especially treasure one given to my family by an older couple who must have used it for ages. Recalling how we had to have “real hay” for it each Christmas when my children were home makes me smile.

Some of my sets are tiny; some include only Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger. Others include the stable, the animals, the shepherds, wise men, angels, the star and more.

For me, the Nativity is the essence of Christmas … a picture of what the New Testament book of Luke tells us occurred that first Christmas. It doesn’t say it took place on Dec. 25, but I don’t have a problem celebrating Jesus’ birth on that day. I don’t mind celebrating Jesus’ birth any day.

What I love about Luke’s account, written by a physician, is it’s not a fairy tale. It’s history.

It’s also significant that God sent Jesus into the world in such a humble way that no one need feel he or she is too poor, or humble, to matter to God.

Further proof of that is shepherds weren’t considered the elite in that culture; quite the opposite, I’m told. But the angel’s stunning announcement about the “good news of great joy which will be for all the people,” that the messiah had been born, was presented to lowly shepherds.

It’s great news that God cares for every single one of us. He won’t force us into a relationship with him.

But if we truly desire that, we won’t be turned away. In fact, he wants the same thing.

As they say, go figure!

Jesus’ birth also is a picture of how we don’t need to understand everything, that when things appear to be going badly, it’s not that there isn’t a God, or that he isn’t in control.

Imagine, Mary was nearly ready to deliver her child when Caesar Augustus ordered a census, requiring Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, to head to his ancestral home, Bethlehem. Joseph, who believed it when an angel told him Mary was supernaturally with child and not to fear taking her as his wife, brought her with him to Bethlehem.

From Nazareth, they traveled some 70 to 80 miles, likely on foot. Dr. Luke doesn’t mention a donkey.

But even if Mary rode on a donkey, what pregnant woman nowadays would consider such a thing?

Then, the only available accommodation in Bethlehem was something meant for animals. Luke doesn’t say it was a stable, or a cave. He simply says Mary laid the baby “in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Some say it could even have been outside. Regardless, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth would have seemed to be far less than desirable.

Moreover, Herod was alerted by the wise men that they were journeying to worship the “King of the Jews who has been born.” Herod, as we know, wasn’t a gracious king. He tolerated no competition.

It appeared a setting for disaster — nothing seemed to be going well.

But everything was happening according to God’s unfathomable plan. So much so that many centuries later, Horatio Spafford, who trusted the God of the Bible, even while suffering untold personal loss, wrote the now-beloved hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

We don’t need to understand everything to trust God. We can joyously celebrate his son’s birth, knowing it was all his plan. And we can also trust God whether our own lives do, or don’t, seem to be going well.

That’s why we can say, “Merry Christmas!”

Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin is a retired reporter, who still contributes to The Vidette. Contact her by emailing the editor at