You've heard this Christmas reading many times, probably since you were a child. Perhaps that is why its deeper meaning is largely overlooked. Why was Jesus placed in a manger? Couldn't Mary or Joseph have held him? Couldn't Mary have found some other bed for Jesus?
The manger is more than just a makeshift crib for the Christ Child, it's a symbol of who Christ is for us! In the ancient world, the manger was used as a feeding trough, so that the animals did not go hungry.
Even as a newborn infant, Christ is portrayed as our spiritual food, the Bread of Life. Bethlehem, in fact, has the Hebrew meaning "House of Bread". Just as fitting is the Arabic name, meaning "House of Lamb" or "House of Meat". We echo the words of John the Baptist who proclaims, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29)
Often we forget that the child born on Christmas is also the Passover lamb, who will suffer and be killed to bring about salvation. The manger - hewn out of stone - brings to mind the stone altar at Mass, where Christ's sacrifice at Calvary is made present. Christ's public ministry did not begin until he was thirty, but the conditions of his birth foreshadow his incomparable love for us.
In contemplating Christ, one can only be struck by how vulnerable he makes himself. As a child, he is tiny, without a voice of his own, and dependent on Mary and Joseph. In the consecrated host, he is exposed to our abuses and indifference. Christ patiently waits for us in the tabernacle every day, whether or not we take the time to visit.
This Christmas, celebrate the joy and peace of Jesus' birth. But also remember that his incarnation leads up to the cross, the source of our salvation! We receive the newborn Christ Child every week in the Eucharist, where he is truly food for our souls. What a great gift God has given us that first Christmas, and continues to give us today.
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Sr. Jeanette Marie, Vocations Director