Focal verse

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:11).


Tucked in a closet with all our Christmas decorations, there’s a small box with the words “Little People” written on it. It’s the first box my daughter reaches for when we’re decorating for the season. The box contains a toy nativity scene complete with a manger, animals, angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Over the years this nativity scene, with all its parts, has become one of our most treasured Christmas items.

Early on in motherhood, I had grand plans to share the story of Jesus’ birth with my children. I imagined myself reading the story of Mary and Joseph’s long trek to Bethlehem and acting out the scene with the toys. I pictured making a field scene with the shepherds and talking about their work. All of this, of course, was before I had children.

Once I had children and they began to grab, crawl and walk, my noble intentions fell flat. My children had their own ideas of how to make the story come to life. It didn’t take long for my baby girl to grab the sheep and start chewing on its tail. Many times I’d find Mary stuffed between the couch cushions or tucked into the high chair covered in scattered Cheerios. As my daughter grew, she mixed the nativity toys with her other toys. Some days we’d have a tea party with Joseph, who fits in the palm of her hand, and her stuffed animals and dolls. On other days the animals from our nativity set raced alongside toy cars.

Yet every year, throughout Advent and the 12 days of Christmas, the nativity scene remains. We interact with it daily. And, over the years, I’ve come to see it as a reminder that the story of Jesus’ birth is meant to be experienced and embraced. It invites us to touch, feel and know that God’s love is real and active in our lives.

I thought I’d be the one teaching my children the meaning of Christmas, but watching them play with the manger scene, I’m the one learning. My children remind me that Jesus came into this world as a baby, full of tears, hungers, needs and joys, just as they did, and just as I did.

I do read the Christmas story to my children throughout the season, but, importantly, I’m taking their cue in learning about the characters of this story. I’ll ask them what they think Mary prayed as she held her son for the first time. I’ll wonder with them how the magi came to visit by following a star. I’ll model reading Scripture and pondering the words.. I’ll give thanks that the story of Jesus’ birth is still told today.


  • Take a physically distanced walk or drive around your neighborhood to search for lights and decorations. As you pass lights, give thanks for Jesus, who came to the world to be our light.
  • It’s not too late to adopt an Advent practice or start thinking about how to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. Check out Traci Smith’s Faithful Families for Advent & Christmas (Chalice Press, 2020) for a variety of ways to mark the season.
  • Find an Advent hymn in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and use it as a family prayer before meals or at bedtime.
  • When you decorate your Christmas tree, offer a blessing to help children remember the gifts of the season found in God, Jesus and caring for others.
  • Consider purchasing a nativity scene that accurately depicts the holy family as people of Middle Eastern heritage. (Ten Thousand Villages or the Silk Road Fair Trade Market have some options.)


We pray for health care workers and first responders.
We pray for families grappling with new ways of celebrating the holidays and grieving traditions that must be avoided this year.
We pray for our friends celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Boxing Day.
We pray for rest.
We give thanks for local businesses.
We give thanks for music and laughter.
We give thanks for ministries that provide clothing, meals and support.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Service opportunity 

Traditional Christmas caroling may look different this year. Invite friends and family to record their favorite Christmas songs and send the recordings—via email or a mailed compact disc—to people who can’t be with their families this year.

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, spouse of an ELCA pastor and co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is

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