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P art of my Christmas decorations include nativity sets from around the world. A few of them are now only memories because they did not survive the rigors of 17 moves around the world. They are made of porcelain, pottery, wood, clay, crystal, plastic, straw, paper, and my favorite one of all is made of popsicle sticks. I have Hispanic, French, African, Italian, Asian, German, Native American, Amish, and Athabascan nativities. Each nativity is unique and beautiful, reflecting the artist’s own culture. I don’t know what culture I would attach to the nativity of popsicle sticks, but it is my favorite because my daughter made it for me many years ago, in preschool.

nativity made out of popsicle sticks
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus made out of crystal
A simple nativity and manger made out of straw

Each set uniquely reflects its origin, which is exactly the point God makes through the Incarnation. God became like us—like you and like me—when taking on human form as a baby. The infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God came to us in a way that we could know and understand. As different as we are from one another, so are the nativities.

John 1:14 proclaims, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As a person with a lifelong disability, for me that means a Savior born who would take on physical limitation and scars. For a friend I met while living in Germany, that means a Black baby Jesus who is like her.

During our years in Germany, my friend and I were instructed that when we were out in public, we should “lay low, and blend in with the people and culture”—as opposed to the common American practice of being rather loud and brazen. “Operational security” is what they called it.

A wooden, African-style nativity is displayed on a shelf.

My African American friend—at 5 feet, 10 inches tall—laughed out loud and said, “How on earth am I going to ‘blend in’ here?” On the other hand, blending into German culture was one thing I could do since I’m 5 feet, 5 inches tall, fair skinned, a little stout, with light brown hair, and of Dutch descent. When I walked around the German towns, most of the citizens thought I was German (until I talked). For my friend who would never blend into German culture, the Incarnation not only meant a Black Savior, but also a “you don’t fit in here” Savior.

John 1:10–13 says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

An angel in Japanese-style dress is part of a Christmas nativity.
A porcelain nativity shows Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and angels.

He still comes to each of us, personally and uniquely, simply yet profoundly. Our Savior comes to us so that we might receive him, believe in his name, and become children of God.

Andrea Godwin-Stremler 

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Godwin-Stremler is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America and a licensed therapist. She currently serves as CEO of New Revelations College Ministries, a ministry of Central Plains Classis that she and her husband, Ted, are planting in northern Texas, forming leaders actively engaged as Christ’s presence in the world.