An Atheist Nativity Scene

Did you hear recently that the Freedom from Religion Foundation placed an atheist nativity scene in front of an Illinois courthouse?  Ben Franklin, Jefferson and Washington overlook the Bill of Rights lying in a manger.  Next to the scene, a sign reads “Happy Winter Solstice” and “Keep State & Church Separate.” [i]  While at first, we might recoil at the ever-growing antigod sentiment, let’s pause and reflect on nativity scenes in light of the Holy Scriptures.  Kindly consider with me.

First, consider what nativity imagery represents. There is convincing proof that the Savior has come, the great ruler, Jesus the Christ (Luke 2:11, Matt. 2:6).  His coming brings peace, good news, glory, and joy to our dark world (Matt. 2:10, Luke 2:10-14).  Out of all of creation, He is most worthy of our worship and adoration (Matt. 2:11, 14:33, John 20:28, Col. 1:15). 

Second, consider that while God does not bless any worship of spiritual imagery, shrines, artifacts, or the like, a nativity scene could prove useful in conveying Biblical truths concerning Christ’s birth, especially to the young (John 4:23-24, 1 John 5:21, 1 Cor. 10:14).  Consider the Bible class teacher who instructs little ones concerning the birth of Christ with a nativity scene.  Surely there is benefit in this instance.  In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul said, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”  Artistic illustrations and models can prove useful in teaching colorful Biblical truths on a wide array of topics from Noah’s Ark to the tower of Babel to the tabernacle to the temple to the birth of Christ.  However, what messages do nativity scenes send to our neighbors and friends?  Do lawns decorated with nativity scenes and cards sent this time of year send the message - it’s Jesus’s birthday?

Third, consider the time element in proclaiming Christ through nativity scenes.  The precise date of Christ’s birth is a matter of speculation. There is no conclusive biblical proof of December 25th being the day of his birth.  Jackson writes “Clement of Alexandria set the date of Christ’s birth at November 18, 3 B.C. Other ancient writers placed the time at May 20, 3/2 B.C., or on April 19 or 20 of the same year. The ancient record is a mass of confusion relative to the precise date of Jesus’ birth.”[ii]  December 24th as holy evening (Christmas Eve) or December 25th (Christmas Day) as a holy day are of human invention.

Fourth, consider that nativity scenes often taken artistic liberty with important details that are not confirmed by the actual Bible text.  Consider that neither Luke nor Matthew indicate a donkey, camel, three wise men, or shepherds on site at the moment of Christ’s birth.   Luke records that when the time for Christ’s birth came, there was no room in the inn.  Mary gave birth, wrapped him swaddling clothes, and laid the high and noble King in a lowly feeding trough (Luke 2:7).  After his birth, shepherds in the field descend upon Mary, Joseph and the glorious King rejoicing at his arrival (Luke 2:16).   Matthew details the wisemen (Matt. 2:1-12).  They came from the east following a star and initially encountered Herod in Jerusalem, some 6 miles away Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-3). “After” Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men were found in Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1).  A jealous Herod consults with the Jewish chief priests and rulers attempting to find Christ’s exact location (Matt. 2:3-4).  Knowing Micah’s 700-year-old prophecy, Herod learned that Bethlehem was the precise location of Christ’s birth (Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6).  Upon taking leave from Herod, the wise men follow the star that leads them to the precise location of Jesus (Matt. 2:7-12).  Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were offered, yet the wise men were not numbered (Matt. 2:11).  They rejoice and worship Him going into a “house” (Matt. 2:7).

So, what shall we conclude?  In contrast to the atheist, agnostic, and antitheist there is rock solid proof confirming that Christ has come into the world.  At Christ’s coming, let humanity rejoice!  Yet, let us be careful to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the bible is silent.  It is great to rejoice at the coming of Christ (John 1) and while teaching on Christ’s birth is necessary, even being enhanced by imagery, there is simply no Divine endorsement of Christmas eve or Christmas day as a sacred day of religious celebration.  If others don’t know what we believe, a nativity scene could be sending the message that Jesus was born on December 25th.  This finds no Biblical support.   To be sure, Christians glory that Christ has come, but we also anticipate with great longing his coming again.  Baby Jesus grew up and died to save the world.  His authority, love and peace are like no other!  For Him, we wait with eager anticipation at the glory of His appearing (Titus 2:11-13, Rev. 22:20)!

[i], accessed 18 December 2018. 

[ii], accessed 19 December 2018.