December 27, 2015

Nativity: December 27, 2015


She laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7)

As soon as Mary "wrapped him in swaddling clothes" she "laid him in a manger." (Luke 2:6b-7) As the first-born son there is "a particular way in which Jesus belongs to God" as the Son of God. [4] Wrapped in swaddling clothes "the child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim." [5] Thus, when Mary "laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7) she knew exactly what she was doing. "The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar. Augustine drew out the meaning of the manger using an idea that at first seems almost shocking, but on closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves. This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life. Thus the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. From the poverty of Jesus’ birth emerges the miracle in which man’s redemption is mysteriously accomplished." [6] Jesus was "laid in a manger", a feeding trough, because He is the food that quenches the deepest hunger of the human heart. In the manger we see the very thing that we are all searching for.

We are all searching. I am searching. You are searching. And ... the prodigal son was searching. When you and I don't know what we're searching for we'll search exhaustively in all sorts of places. Lost, hungry, and empty, the prodigal son left the security of his father's house searching for "more" out of life. Painfully, the prodigal son discovered the sobering truth that the world can't give you what you're searching for. Poetically, the searching son "hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine." (Luke 15:15) Hungry ... lost ... searching ... the prodigal son stared at the feeding trough and "longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed". (Luke 15:16) The prodigal son stared at a manger and longed to be filled with the peace he was searching for. Contrast that with Mary lying Jesus in a manger, knowing full well that her son is the only thing that will ever fill what we are all searching for. The "world's mangers" will always leave you empty in the end. "God's manger" will always quench your deepest longings and show you what you're searching for.

What are you searching for? Reverently and respectfully, may I admit to us all that we won't find what we're searching for from Santa or his presents or the shopping that we did for Christmas. In fact, the reason the world is consumed with diversion, longing for the next day of New Year's already, is because it is lost in the exhausting treadmill of pleasure ... hoping that one good holiday will either fill us with what we're searching for or at least medicate the ache because our "real" lives seem empty of what we really want.

Now, Merry Christmas. I mean that: Merry Christmas. In all your searching ... God is searching for you. He made the decision to become man. He chose to enter our world. He took the initiative with the Christmas story. Yes, regardless of your searching ... and the many places you've searched ... God is searching for you. He is in the manger. He is ready for you. What do you want for Christmas? What do you really want for Christmas? What are you searching for?

For your prayer

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung Psalm 63 as they laid Jesus in the manger. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 63. Read it a few times. Consider the sweetness of their singing. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:7. Be in the scene. Be with Mary as she lays Jesus in the manger. Imagine Mary's thoughts as she thinks about her pregnancy ... and then thinks about the first time she'll consume the Eucharist. Once it was her body feeding her son. One day it will be her son feeding her body. Now, ask Mary if you can hold Jesus and lay Him in the manger. Look at Him ... and ask Him to show you what you're searching for. 

Today's prayer

"Father, I desire to experience a profound communion with your Son. I give you permission to open my heart so that I may receive all you desire for me."

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 70
[5] Ibid., page 68
[6] Ibid.

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.