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.
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