Magnificence in the Manger Scene

old family manger scene

And this is my prayer for us, dear Gardeners, on the first of December: May the beautiful, ancient Christmas story glitter with something new. May a facet of the story—the timing, the relationships, a precious detail, perhaps—catch our eye, our heart, kindling deeper devotion. May a dimension open up, take our breath away, and draw us discover His magnificence.

All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.
Isaiah 28:29 NIV

New From Old?

The experience of an old story revealing new truth first happened to me 18 years ago, when our son Tanner was born in December. Somehow, holding a newborn boy throughout the month of singing “O Come, Let Us Adore Him” seemed natural and age-old, yet miraculous and stirring. I was overcome with empathy for Mary, as a mother of course, and slowly began to realize the place of humility in that manger. I would have felt indignant to bear our baby among livestock, without sterile instruments and properly laundered linens, let alone a full medical staff! Our little Tanner loved to be swaddled, and it was hard to imagine Mary didn’t have a clean, cuddly, fleece blanket to tightly wrap her baby. My son had better garments at his birth than did the King of Glory. gulp.

The Manger Scene

Over the years, the humility of the manger scene has continued to capture my thoughts, its sweet irony to over-the-top decorating, baking, and gift-giving of the season. “What to my wondering eyes would appear” in the Christmas story this year to reveal more about my God? I wondered, as I unpacked and arranged our family nativity set. I was pondering, placing, dusting, and positioning the little figurines—three kings with their gifts on one side, shepherd and their animals on the other—when the poignant contrast of these two dispositions became midnight clear. Plants from a former blog, “Hidden in the Horticulture” came to mind (ever the gardener!), with the pattern of the regal, stately cedar of Lebanon alongside the humble, unpretentious hyssop.

The plants capture a garden-lovers attention and speak God’s magnificent story hidden in the horticulture. What sheer delight to find such a treasure! The cedar of Lebanon reminds us of Jesus, who he is: God’s Son, radiance of God’s glory, seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. The hyssop reminds us of Jesus, what he did: descended low, into the depths of the earth to win our redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
—Shelley S. Cramm, Hidden in the Horticulture,, October 9, 2014

three kings with cedarI realized the little figurines resound this pattern: Three kings, rich with gifts, like the cedar; the shepherd surrounded by grazing animals, like the hyssop; the lofty and the lowly.

shepherd with hyssop branchesFor this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Isaiah 57:15 NIV

Once again, my garden helped me understand and see Scripture’s beauty and embrace God’s embrace of everyone, from kings to shepherds, and in turn, each of us, across our lives, our noble moments to our face-to-the-ground defeats.* O the thoroughness of God’s Word! Its intricacy and layering captivate and envelope us in His plan, His wisdom, and His loving-kindness. He placed not only humility but magnificence in the manger scene! Hallelujah!

God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, Surveying his magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, Seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best. He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children. Hallelujah!
Psalm 113:4-9 The Message

NIV God's Word for Gardeners Bible with daily essays on the plants, landscapes, and garden metaphors in the BibleFind hyssop in the God’s Word for Gardeners Bible near Psalm 51 & as part of the Garden Work theme of Watering, page a-26
Find cedar of Lebanon in God’s Word for Gardeners Bible as part of the Garden Tour landscape, page a-17 & in “Choosing Kings,” Israel’s Horticultural Allegories, page 296Garden in Delight gate logo

Learn more about growing these plants in your garden in the Plant Guide:

Cedar of Lebanon –
Hyssop –

*Notice the Merism, as defined by Dr. John Sailhamer, a Hebrew figure of speech that “expresses ‘totality’ by combining two contrasts or two extremes,” as quoted in Genesis Unbound (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1996), page 56. Learn more about this nuance of Scripture in More Bible Plant Books

Photo Credits: ©2016 Shelley S. Cramm
Dwarf myrtle branches adorn the manger of our family nativity, a gesture to the Sukkot or temporary shelters of the Feast of Tabernacles. Click for more on Myrtle
Three kings with dwarf blue Atlas cedar branches (I WISH I had a cedar of Lebanon!) Click for more about planting our Glory of Lebanon garden
Shepherd boy with hyssop branches, Origanum syriacum

Happy Birthday, Tanner!

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2 Responses to Magnificence in the Manger Scene

  1. Lydia December 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

    A joyous Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Deborah McKissic December 5, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Merry Christmas, Shelley!
    I have spent so much time this year in the Gardeners Bible. It is truly the joy of my day! So many times I have told myself to pause and send you off a note and the days fly by! So many times I have been touched by the readings and it was exactly what I needed to hear that day, or to ponder. May you and your family enjoy a wonderful Christmas day! Blessings to you in the New Year. I plan to keep the Gardeners bible on my kitchen table again this year and read through it once again and smile when I think of you and your wonderful writings along with our Lords words that deeply touch my heart and make my life sing.
    Christmas blessings to you and your family!

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