Advent Reflection 3: Modeling the Manger


Series Intro
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation. In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more amazing Story behind it.

In our first post, we looked at the four Old Testament “mothers” of Christ and how they can enrich our experience of the upcoming season of Advent. Last week, we focused on the Holy Angels and how they model our call to be faithful witnesses, devoted worshippers, and workers of mercy. This week, we turn our attention to the object that held the baby Jesus.                                                                                                            the-mystical-nativity(1)

Away in a Manger

I grew up hearing the Nativity story and the words of the angels, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12). I had seen countless “manger” scenes with a small painted figurine of the Holy Child resting in a little wooden box filled with faux straw. But it wasn’t until I was a grown man that I learned the manger where Jesus was placed was, in fact, a feeding stone trough (they have found several of these in the Holy Land). In fact, our English word, manger comes from mangier “to eat.”

Luke doesn’t want to miss this seemingly ordinary detail. In fact, he uses the term three times in the story (Lk. 2:7,12,16). Why?

One of the most obvious reasons is that Jesus will become the Bread of Life (John 6:25), food for the whole world. It’s doubly significant that it happens in the little town of Bethlehem, which can be translated “house of bread.”

It’s also a sign of God’s great love and humility to be born in such poor circumstances, rather than in a palace fit for the King of Kings. But, for our purposes I want to propose a different reflection on the manger. The manger as us. Here are three ways we can “model” that holy manger this coming Advent Season:

Make space for Jesus

Ancient mangers were created by hollowing out a space in a large stone. What needs to be carved out of your heart, schedule, time, energy, attention and affection to make space for Jesus? Only you can answer that question. Each day presents us countless moments, even if brief, to welcome Jesus into our conversations, tasks and relationships.

Showing hospitality for others

In its own way, that dirty little stone manger showed hospitality to Jesus. Christian hospitality has very little to do with setting a stunning table and everything to do with simply “making room” for another. I can be homeless and show hospitality to another, by opening my hearts and hands to them. In fact, one of the most beautiful ways I can show hospitality (making room) is to visit the homebound. Your presence, warmth, simple gift and listening ear can change someone’s entire experience of the holiday season.

Feed the hungry

I just read a statistic that 1 in 4 children in my state regularly go hungry. That is unacceptable. There are dozens of ministries and organizations we can give a sacrificial offering to this Advent season and beyond to turn this tide. But food is only one kind of hunger. People hunger for acceptance, kindness, meaning, joy and peace. What are some practical ways you can meet those deeper needs by sharing with another the Bread of Life who alone can satisfy?

Painting “Mystical Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.

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  • Jose Samilin

    The simple lesson for us all is if we can’t be as humble as a feeding stone through on where He was born then, we can’t get to heaven.

  • Avila

    This was the topic of our homily today as our priest matched up the items listed in the reading (Matt 25: 31-46) and explained how they applied spiritually e.g. feeding the hungry is also about feeding the hungry souls etc. It was a relief when he spoke of visiting people in prison as not solely visiting prisoners but spending time and helping those who were prisoners to sin, prisoners in their own homes etc. I always had trouble with that line as the thought of visiting a prison is terrifying, but now I realise that people can be prisoners in other ways.

    It was more poignant as I had recently discovered that I had been lost in a labyrinth or fake prison due to lack of self confidence and a tendency towards scrupulosity. Most articles on scrupulosity seem to concentrate on receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but not the other aspects which were the ones that affected me. I just didn’t know I was imprisoned, only that something was wrong but I couldn’t work it out. Thankfully God paved the way and I read a plain (but lovingly) written booklet (now downloaded for future reference) offered on a forum for someone else, which left me no room for my “ah buts”. It was a struggle to accept that there were no “ah buts”, however, I know that I need to address the difficulty of striking the balance between things that separate one from God and sin (very hard as I read somewhere that anything that separates us from God is a sin and that struck home), without losing the concern that I try to do His will and please Him.

  • Marianne

    I love the connection of manger (for eating) to Jesus, who is the Bread of Life; as well as Bethlehem, the House of Bread! This also made me think of the “different kinds of hunger” that Thomas mentions. Let us keep our eyes open to opportunities for feeding the physical and spiritual hungers of those who cross our paths. On that note, when we’re stuffing ourselves at gatherings with family friends in the coming weeks, let us seek out the person(s) at the table whose hearts are “empty” without a meaningful relationship with Christ. In Cursillo, we have a saying, “Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring that friend to Christ.”

    Most people are going to be crazy busy in the coming weeks. I like the advice “make space for Jesus”. How often do I find myself saying, “when I have some time, I’m going to do…” I ask the Blessed Mother
    to intercede for me and help me to differentiate between the things of the world (and say No) and the things of the Lord (and respond hastily with an enthusiastic Yes).

    Once again, Thomas presents a well thought out article with practical suggestions that help to deepen our faith and put that faith into action.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    I always tend to feel depressed during the Christmas Season. Many Christmases (particularly when I was a child) I have been physically sick. And then there was the gift giving (giving NOT recieving) I worried that my gifts would not be enough, Then came the horrible feeling of guilt that I was unworthy of the gifts I recieved from others. I had not earned them by good behavior over the year. Ultimately what was my gift to the Baby Jesus? Unfortunately this are the things that Christmas evokes for me. This year I have decided to try to follow a Orthodox Advent. I plan to devote more of my time to prayer and fasting.

  • Jose Samilin

    Since i became disabled for about ten years now I have been longing to join the usual Christmas celebrations among friends and families but its rarely unless someone kindhearted person make an effort to help me travel and assist me to move around. In those instances of getting those help which had been many times already in my life, i am always very thankful for them and even include them in my prayers for our loving and merciful Lord to bless them especially as I see them in the person of Christ. I will continue for pray the rosary in this advent season for God’s blessings to all of us.

  • pnkyB4brain

    Beverly, your writing is just what I was thinking of. Thank you for putting it so eloquently!

  • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

    Thanks for these posts…love them…put our thoughts into proper perspective as we prepare for the season ahead….Especially this time of year, I notice how we go around shopping with our eyes down focused on objects we are going to buy, and completely “see through” the person standing there…Let us change this and actually notice those who are around us, look them in the eye, maybe say, greet them, and especially smile at them…we never know…we maybe the first person that day who has really looked at them, and acknowledged their presence…There is an elderly lady at Church who I have seen there for many years…she sits in the same section and always is cheerful…one day, a few months ago, I went up to her and chatted a short time, then gave her a hug…she was really appreciative…Now, every time she sees me, she wants her hug…it makes me happy, doesn’t “cost” anything…yet it “costs” everything…for we both are giving of ourselves to each…simply being open and vulnerable to someone shows them we really care…and isn’t that what it is all about?