Immanuel: Born Into Our World{s}

My favorite past time in the whole world is traveling.  While I do believe it’s a small world after all, it’s also a very intricate globe that spins on the axis of time.  Like a microchip in a computer holds so much information, so Planet Earth does in the Universe.  When I can’t travel myself, I enjoy living vicariously through others’ trips, including travel journalists like Rick Steves.  Two of my college friends and I toted his “Back Door Europe: 2006” book with us as we backpacked through four countries just after graduating seven {wow, I’m getting older} years ago.  I’ve always lit up when I stumbled across his shows through the years.  So, naturally, I was giddy when I found out that we could watch these pearls of wanderlust on demand through Hulu.  My husband and I have thoroughly been enjoying going to far off lands with Rick in the comfort of our own living room as we dream of gathering dust on the soles of our shoes from many of these places one day.  This Christmas season, Rick educated us about a traditional manger scene display called “Presepi”, started by St.Francis of Assisi just a little north of Rome some 800 years ago.

“These presepi, as manger scenes are called in Italy, originated 800 years ago just north of Rome, in Assisi. St. Francis was a master at teaching Bible lessons with clever props, and he figured out that a manger scene helped people relate to the Christmas message more vividly. Ever since then, the Baby Jesus has been shown on his day of birth in a humble setting, in local scenes that have not a hint of Bethlehem: an Italian setting for Italian viewers (or an Arctic scene for Eskimos) to connect more intimately with the story of the Nativity. In Rome, it was a Bethlehem home show, as all over town creative crèches were on display.” – Rick Steves Travel Blog

I appreciate and admire Renaissance art so much, but when it comes to pictures of Jesus and other Biblical stories, since coming of age myself and being educated a little further in the diversity of cultures throughout the globe, I’ve often sort of cringed and scoffed at the artists of those paintings for their ignorance in painting Jesus to be a blonde haired, blue eyed pasty skinned caucasian.  By historical, geographical, racial, and cultural fact, most likely Jesus probably would have had dark hair, eyes, and skin like most Middle Easterners do.

So, it always sort of annoyed me that artists didn’t depict Him as a person coming from that cultural background.  “I mean, how could a black person in Africa relate to such a white Jesus,” I always wondered.

But after watching Rick Steves’ documentary on the Presepi manger scenes, my presuppositions have been smashed to smithereens.

Immanuel came to dwell among us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:2 & 14 NIV)

St.Francis’ tradition of the Presepi manger scenes are such poignant hallmarks for the purpose of Christ’s birth.  He came to dwell among us.  He came to be where we are.  He was sent to enter our world.  He was sent to enter our worlds.

Immanuel came in the flesh to relate to our own worlds, yet bring the Hope of His new world.  I know it’s important to know the who, what, when, why, and where of Jesus’ entry to the world.  But the color of His skin may not have as much relevance as His ability to rock the worlds of each that He comes to dwell amongst.

In the Presepis, He can be found every where from Italian Villas to trash heaps to Churches to Eskimo Villages.

Immanuel has been born once of the flesh.  But the worlds of hearts He has been born into hold a number only He knows.

For me, Immanuel was born in a room with toys, dolls, and children’s books on the cold wood floors by my childhood bed.

For some, Immanuel is born at the end of a long carpeted aisle in front of a congregation.

For others, Immanuel is born in a high-backed office chair behind a desk on the 28th floor of the highest building in the city.

In the hearts of more, Immanuel is born on the floor of a dusty hut near the Equator.

For thousands, Immanuel is born in the dark, secret places of hiding where He is not welcome.

To more than a few souls, Immanuel is born as shots are fired toward an armed hum-v or in the direction of an unarmed village.

In dirt and filth, Immanuel is born to many who live in the slums and streets.

Immanuel is born in a clean hospital room to countless people who lie in a bed counting the breaths that remain in their lungs.

No, the birth of Immanuel doesn’t always look like the scene of a virgin-mother, step-father, and child in a stable surrounded by angels, shepherds, livestock, and wise men.  Christ’s physical birth was of most important in order for Him to be born into our hearts.  But usually, it looks a little more recognizable to our own surroundings.  More than we realize, the birth of Immanuel looks awfully familiar. He put on the same outfit that we wear…flesh…and He came to be born not just into our World, but our worlds.

I’m not so upset over the pictures of the white, blue-eyed, blonde haired Jesus that we see so much in the portraits of old anymore. No.  I see now, that these are Presipes for many who painted them.  I see now that myriads of old masters made way for the Master of Everything, Immanuel, to be born into their worlds.  And I’m glad that they were able to see Jesus in their own worlds.

My hopeful prayer is that the paintbrushes of all of our hearts bring images of labor and delivery to each of our worlds this Christmas and always.

May each of our unique Presipes illustrate the individual worlds that have been forever changed and saved by the truth of the virgin birth in the crèche of Christ, the atoning death on the cross of Christ, and the coming back from death to life through the resurrection of Christ.

Has Christ entered your world yet?

Who is this Immanuel?

When He was born into my world, Immanuel whispered to me simply, “I AM God and I AM with you.”


“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 NIV



Check out more about Presepi Manger Scenes… 


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  1. Pingback: Merry Christmas!

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