Each year I begin to feel like the Christmas season has begun when I unwrap and display in a visible place a ceramic manger scene.

It is significant not only because it represents the Bethlehem story but because it was a special gift from my late Uncle, Tom Kilgore. My Father’s youngest brother and a World War II veteran, his wounds in service brought him home to the VA Hospital in Dublin, Georgia, where he spent the last 40 years of his life in a bed or a wheelchair. While in the hospital therapy department, he pursued ceramics. Not only did he make the Baby Jesus in a manger, the models of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and their sheep but also the wise men with their gifts and camels. In overcoming his war wounds, he discovered ways to bring joy with his painstaking efforts to create this gift I will pass on to my children at some point. How he crafted these wonderful items is itself a mystery. With gnarled fingers and limited eyesight, his creativity developed into special forms.

What happened in Bethlehem was also a mystery. Visitors to the Church of the Nativity today see an inlaid star symbol under a small swinging incense burner and are told that this is the place where Jesus was born. On one of our trips to Israel, a guide took us to a shepherd’s field outside town where a cave which may have housed the animals for safety and the newborn child and his parents. We are not sure where Jesus was born, but we are sure He was.

In the conversion experience a mystery happens in each believer’s life. He recognizes that God’s gift in that child assures him of God’s love. The bright star of Christmas shines to remind us that a Savior is born. Releasing me from the captivity of separation from God’s love, I hear the words, “unto you is born this day — in the city of David — a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” If I had needed an educator, God could have sent one. If I had needed a king, He could have sent one! But what I need is a Savior, and Bethlehem reminds us that is what God sent!

In the mystery of a child’s birth, we reflect on a life begun in a manger, wrapped in “swaddling clothes.” In the life of the Son of man, we watch Him die on a cross and be placed in a borrowed tomb, again wrapped in “swaddling (burial) clothes.”

From the darkness of selfishness, at this season, let us step into the light of God’s selfless love and kneel before the manger to find our hearts transformed by His grace. “The light shines in the darkness, and it cannot be shut down.”

Merry Christmas!

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Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as President of the International Family Foundation and lives in Canton. His most recent book, “Living Without Limits,” was published in late 2019 and is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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