Christmas Eve December 24, 2012
THE SIXTH LESSON: St. Luke tells of the birth of Jesus. Luke 2:1-7
THE SEVENTH LESSON: The shepherds go to the manger. Luke 2:8-16
THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
This year during Advent we have considered the “characters of Christmas,” starting with Mary, then Joseph, and then Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Yesterday we took a new look at Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. Tonight we consider another non-human character of Christmas – the manger.
Many people have some sort of manger scene or nativity set as part of their Christmas decorations. In one home on Christmas Day a small manger scene sat on a table just inside the doorway of a neatly kept home. People hurried past it all day, barely noticing the tiny figures gathered around the infant tucked into golden straw. In the morning children raced by it on their way to the Christmas tree. At noon, arriving guests pushed past it, one accidentally knocking over a shepherd as he took off his winter coat.
Later in the afternoon a well-fed assembly of adults and children moved somewhat slowly by the manger again as they drifted from the dining area back into the living room. Almost none of them stopped to look at the manger. In fact, none of them even noticed it, except two. An old woman, walking with a cane, paused in front of the scene. Gently she put the shepherd back in an upright position. Then she looked at the child in the middle of the figures. After a few minutes, she became aware of a small grandson by her side. As voices drifted in from the living room, the two continued to look deeply on the scene. Eventually a smile spread across the women's face. The child took her hand. In the midst of a day filled with a lot of busyness, the two of them quietly received
God came to a humble maiden in an obscure village called Nazareth. An angel told her that she would bear a child. That child would be the hope of the world. And that child would spend its first night sleeping in a manger.
Any of you here tonight French scholars? “Manger” doesn’t mean the barn or stable. “Manger” comes from the middle French word maingeure, a derivative of mangier ‘to eat’ a relative of the Latin mandūcāre to chew, eat.
The baby Jesus was wrapped in cloths and spent his first night on earth sleeping in a feed trough for cattle. For many of us, knowing these circumstances of his birth clue us in to his humility. He who was with God from the beginning of the universe, who left heaven, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, let go of his rights to glory and became a human being.
But there is something even more significant in the baby Jesus spending his first hours in a manger. He could have been just as humble and placed in some other kind of box or drawer. But a manger – this is where God’s creatures come to eat. The Gospel of John records several “I am,” statements of Jesus, not the least of which is “I am the Bread of Life.”
Adam Hamilton writes, “He who called himself the bread of life, who alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our souls, was born in the town of Bethlehem – the “House of Bread” – and was laid to sleep on that first night in a trough where God’s creatures ate.
“What we really hunger for will not be found under the tree on Christmas morning. We hunger for meaning, for joy, for hope in the face of despair. We hunger to know that we can be forgiven and start anew after things we regret. We hunger for a love that will not let us go and for life and triumph in the face of death. These come through a baby born in a stable, laid to sleep in a feeding trough, visited by night-shift shepherds. He is for us the bread of life.”
Christmas is the perfect time for us to come to the manger, to eat of the Bread of Life, in other words to choose to become Christ’s followers and to put our trust in him.
Thanks be to God for his incredible gift – the Babe in the manger.