“The time came for Her to have Her Child and She gave birth to Her firstborn Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
– Luke 2: 6-7
There is someting very humble and pure about the thought of that little wooden manger in Bethlehem. A manger within a stable, the only place that was ready to hold the Lord of All Creation, the One who created all that is. This same Lord is now placed very gently in a manger by His Mother.
There are three broad themes worth thinking about whilst considering this scene, described so simply in Saint Luke’s Gospel – emptiness, preparation and simplicity.
Before the Divine Infant can be placed in the manger, it must first be emptied of all that it contains – the food of the animals, the detritus that gathered there, any sharp pieces of straw. This little Child needs space, He requires an emptiness that only He can fill. A single-minded sense of purpose is ideal – in fact, much later He will say something similar, when He speaks about putting the hand to the plough and not looking back; it is the same sentiment. He alone must fill that emptiness; He alone can fill that emptiness.
I have no doubt that before laying Her Son in the manger, the Blessed Virgin prepared it for Him as best She could, removing from it anything that might harm Her little baby Son and taking out any detritus from the animals who grazed from that manger. For that is what a manger is – a feeding trough, filled with food. Of course, considering that this same Lord remains with us even now in the form of the Blessed Sacrament – our spiritual Food – this is entirely appropriate. Equally, it should come as no surprise that the word ‘Bethlehem’ translates as ‘House of Bread’. This same Child, lying here now in the manger, placed there ever so gently by His Mother, will become for us the Bread of Life, broken for love of us.
This Child is truly the King of Kings; and yet His first throne is not of gold but of wood; filled not with jewels but with straw. He is not wrapped in silk and fine raiment, but in swaddling clothes. He who is above all of creation takes the form of this little Baby. And He is recognised and adored first of all not by the nations, but by simple shepherds.
Now, if we read all of this again, but replacing the word ‘manger’ with the words ‘human heart’, the story and the message are the same – our little hearts are just like that manger; they need to be emptied of self and of all attachments; they need to be acrefully prepared to receive the Lord of Lords; and they need to be – and to remain – simple and pure.
There is no-one better placed to help us to achieve all of this than the one who achieved it with the original manger – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of this Divine Child whom we are now adoring.
She can remove from our hearts all that takes the place of Her Son; She can prepare our hearts to receive Him and to make Him truly welcome; and She can ensure that we are at all times simple, like little children, in His divine presence.
In these last few days before Christmas, let us gaze with awe upon the Nativity Scene in our home, our Church or our town, and let us ask the holy Mother of God to obtain this great grace for us – to prepare our hearts for Her Son, as She prepared the manger in Bethlehem, that He might find within us a place where He is pleased to dwell.
I wish all of you the miracle of Christmas – the peace and the joy of the Christ Child.