Nativity sets became popular in 1277 when Saint Francis of Assisi staged an outdoor live nativity scene. During December, we’re examining each element of the very first nativity scene to rekindle our love for Christmas, having already looked at the first two pieces last week.

The third piece of nativity sets is the stable. Instead of being born in a palace, Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. In Jesus’ day, they didn’t have wooden barns. Most likely the barn was a shallow limestone cave with a barrier across the opening so farmers could shelter their animals. Some of us were born in houses. Most of us were born in hospitals. But none of us have been born in such a miserable condition as Jesus — in a dirty and smelly barn filled with animals.

Whatever bad business life has handed you, Jesus has already been there. He was a refugee as an infant, fleeing to Egypt with his family. He worked in construction for 30 years. He understands poverty, discrimination and rejection. He was ridiculed every day during His short ministry. At the time of His arrest, His closest friends abandoned Him. If you think nobody understands what you are going through, look at the stable. What does the stable teach us? As bad as your life may be, you can identify with Jesus.

The fourth piece of nativity sets is the manger. Some people think a manger is a nice little bassinet with a soft bottom and frilly ribbons, but a manger was nothing more than a common feed trough for livestock. It’s a crudely constructed piece of barn furniture — ordinary in every way. In most nativity sets, the manger often appears warm and inviting, a good place for a baby. In truth, it was a box from which sloppy animals ate.

What does the manger teach us? God’s presence changes the simple into the supernatural. Only God can transform a simple piece of furniture into an icon that’s recognized around the world. What He did to the manger, He can do with you. When Jesus lives in you, His presence can make your life extraordinary.

Allen Tilley is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Carthage.

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