Blessings from the Manger
I love the Christmas story. There is so much heart and hope, so much promise amidst the straw and animals. Luke’s infancy connects with our love of our babies and with our sympathy for women’s swollen ankles, when well advanced in pregnancy. It playfully hints at the presence of animals and fodder. It fills our imagination with heavenly choirs, inspiring our Christmas carols.
Even so, for the second time in thirteen years, I’m preaching on the opening of John’s Gospel at Christmas Masses, and not the stories of the manger or the shepherds and the angels. John’s prologue is, not so much warm, as magisterial, a hymn to the eternal Son of God, second person of the Trinity, creator of all that is. The Church offers us this reading as an alternative. It can be good to move our vision to the bigger picture, serving, perhaps, as a corrective to all the fluff that has made its way into our Christmas consciousness.
Santa and elves on shelves are light and heartwarming. The Grinch teaches us about small hearts and generosity. Christmas canes and cookies both fatten and delight us. What is lovelier than a neighborhood all lit up with colorful lights? The giving of the perfect gift is such a sweet pleasure. All the sweet delights of the season captivate us and hold our attention ... perhaps at the expense of a greater truth.
When the shepherds, responding to the angelic message made haste to the place where Mary had given birth, they had been promised a savior, confusingly wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:11). Even that word, “savior,” though, is far too little for whom they found. The shepherds will glorify and praise God for what they had heard and seen. It’s unclear if they had the slightest inkling that they were in the holy presence of God, Himself, all swaddled as He was.
Our theology is clear. We know that the Baby of Bethlehem is so much more than any other baby is, as precious as they all are. We use important words for the Baby: lord, messiah, redeemer, etc. They all help us narrow down on Jesus’ importance to us. Every now and then, even when swept away by all the warming hearts of our celebration of Christmas, it is good for us to remember. The lordly, anointed and redeeming Baby is the eternal self-expression of God, His Word, through whom all things came to be, God from God, Light from light, shining on in the darkness, which could not overcome Him.
He is the very Holy Presence of God with us.
Amidst all the joyful fluff of Christmas, do not fail to make your way to a nativity scene, and worship – not the images, but the reality they represent, of our God who enters into our history to teach and heal, to challenge and comfort, to redeem the fallen as savior. His is truly Emmanuel,
“God with us.”
May you and yours find joy in the stunning closeness of our God.
picture provided https://publicdomainvectors.org/en/free-clipart/Classic-nativity/59635.html
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