The Nativity

The Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century resulted from the study of scripture and a profound desire to live a life patterned after the life of Jesus, as recorded in the gospels. Individuals were not encouraged to do their own personal study of the Bible in that time period. Unfortunately the trends of the day had the public moving away from a Christ centered life toward a legalism which offered the church significant material benefits. In this environment the Anabaptists, and other reformers, boldly took a stand against prevailing thought and practice, often at great expense.

Every year, during Advent and the Christmas season, we hear people and organizations trying to be politically correct by not using the word “Christmas.” Instead they use terms such as “Holiday Greetings,” “Holiday Sales,” and the like. Almost as prevalent as the politically correct terminology is the lament that we must “keep Christ in Christmas.” This is an appropriate priority for those of the Christian faith.

I have a variety of vivid memories of Christmas from my childhood. They are mostly positive memories. I remember well the excitement that accompanied the opening of presents, the treat bags that we received from school, from Sunday School and from our grandparents, and the special times spent with cousins. The part that I recall with less fondness is the tradition of having all the children recite their memorized recitations at the extended family gathering. I could never understand why these performances precipitated so much laughter from uncles and aunts.

The week before Christmas our one-room country school would suspend all study related activities and spend the entire week preparing for the annual Christmas program. This program consisted of carols, poems and short plays. The majority of the program was focused on the message of the birth of Christ. Everyone from the community attended.

The Sunday School Christmas program was always held on Christmas-Eve. Every year, Mr. Frank Brown, the Sunday School superintendent, would read the Christmas story from the King James Bible. Most years the pageant would involve a nativity scene of some kind. The Christmas story was always clearly told.

As long as my grandparents were with us we had family gatherings which included all the uncles, aunts and cousins, some of whom we didn’t see more than once or twice a year. In addition to the aforementioned children’s recitations we would typically hear the biblical account of the Christmas story and sing a number of carols, some in English and always, for the benefit of my grandmother, some in German.

Today we live in a society that, by and large, enjoys celebrating at this time of year. In fact, we enjoy celebrating so much that we are in danger of losing sight of the real Christmas story and its significance in our world. It is my wish and prayer that the passion for a Christ centered life exhibited by our forebears would inspire us to truly celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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