I was in the Christmas pageant one year back in high school. It was quite a spectacle, with all the Holiday bells and whistles you might expect. We had Christmas carols, wassailing, yule logs, and even a drunken lord of somewhere at a banquet, played by yours truly. Here’s my one line:

“A toast, a toast.”

We had a “living” Nativity, too, but done tableau-style. The actors playing the wise men, Mary, and Joseph had to stand perfectly still and gaze down in love and awe at the manger in the scene, which I remember as a rough cradle of light-colored wood. A blanket lined the cradle, and straw lined the blanket.

It became a game to put different things in the manger during practices, with the object being to cause Mary or Joseph to break character and laugh. I don’t think it happened until one of the final performances.

We put a fish in it.

That memory popped into my head the other day, while I was thinking about writing this. At the time, it seemed like big-time funny. And it was, it really was.

Because I didn’t get it.

I think for many of us, the Nativity is little more than a symbol–part of a set of symbols–that we place under a tree, or in a window sill. An aesthetically pleasing reminder of the holiday, and a token nod to what it’s actually about. So it’s OK to do things like try and make people laugh, even at the cost of obscuring what actually did occur on a night a little more than two thousand years ago.

Even Christians do this–I know I have. Jenny and I even talked about getting a Nativity the other day–and I thought “that’ll look great in the window, or under the tree.”

But then something clicked in my head, and it isn’t something I’ve really given much thought to, other than hearing my old pastor in San Diego speak on it once. I don’t remember his exact words, but his point has stayed in my head ever since, milling around near the back of my giant skull, only coming out once in a while, when I’m not paying attention.

I was thinking about what the Nativity actually represents, at least to me.

Yes, it’s a beautiful depiction of some of the events following the birth of Jesus, and those participating in them.

But it’s more than that.

The world was, and remains, a fallen place. A place peopled by those desperately in need of rescue. Not just rescue from the fallen world they lived in, but also rescue from themselves, and their recurring tendency to fall into sin. And God looked at this world filled with people that He made, and loved, and He did the only thing He could do to save it when He saw it about to be overran.

He sent His Son.

That’s the world that Jesus entered. It was a world at war in almost every sense of the word. There was actual war with Rome, and several other countries. The denizens of Jerusalem and its outlying regions also warred against each other. And I think most significantly, the people warred against themselves, and their own inherant tendency to sin.

This is the hardest war to fight, because on our own we can achieve no victory. It was the same for people during the time of Jesus.

They needed someone to save them, and also to teach them how to fight against an unbeatable foe. We need those same things today.

And I think the Nativity represents not just the world-shattering birth of Jesus the Christ, but also the greatest and most daring act of war the world has ever seen, performed in a battle to the death against an enemy without peer.

It also represents an invasion.