St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 9.2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20
We long for Christmas to be a joyful and a happy time, but for many of us it is not always so. Yes, we experience good times, but let’s face it, life is messy. Our good times are interspersed with broken relationships, disappointments, tragedy, sickness, death, divorce and grief. We carry these things into Christmas. For some of us, myself included, Christmas brings mixed feelings. Yes, I feel the sense of hope and joy, I love watching children joyously anticipate and celebrate Christmas, I recollect good times, but other painful memories come to mind. Many of us seek wholeness and healing – we hunger after justice and righteousness.
Luke tells us that Mary gave birth, wrapped her son “in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2.7; NRSV). The manger figures prominently in Luke’s account.
When the angel of the Lord shone about the shepherds, they were terrified. But angels, in case you hadn’t noticed, always begin by saying “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” The angel continued, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2.10-12; NRSV). Then Luke tells us the angel of the Lord was accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly host, who praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors” (Luke 213-14; NRSV).
Thereafter, the shepherds go to Bethlehem, the city of David; “they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (Luke 216; NRSV). The shepherds shared the story of the angel and the heavenly host – all who heard were amazed. Luke tells us Mary pondered these things in her heart. The shepherds, glorifying and praising God, returned to their flocks.
Think of it, a manger, a place where the animals feed and are fed. And think of it, the angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds, to those who were despised and considered thieves. One might expect that the angel of the Lord and the heavenly host would appear to the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees – to the religious leaders. But the angel appeared to the lowly, to the outcast. If Jesus were born today, the angels likely appear to the homeless who are seeking shelter, to the migrant workers at surrounding dairies, to the illegal aliens seeking a better life and/or fleeing danger in their own land.
The manger may be deeply symbolic. Although Luke does not tell us if any animals were present, it stands to reason they may have been. Perhaps the ox and the ass drew near to see this babe lying in their manger atop their hay. They likely sniffed the child. Perhaps they too were filled with wonder.
The world longs to be fed; we are hungry. We seek the “manger.” Have you ever noticed how often Jesus spoke of bread?
Remember how Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4.4; NRSV).
Remember how Jesus fed the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish?
Remember how shortly thereafter the crowd found Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and said, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered,
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.26-35; NRSV).
More importantly, remember Jesus words at the Last Supper when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples – “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19; NRSV).
And last, remember how the disciples on the road to Emmaus were joined by a stranger who shared with them the significance of the events which had happened in Jerusalem – the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection – and how Jesus was known in the breaking of the bread.
It is more than fitting that Jesus was born and laid in a manger, for Jesus is the bread from heaven, the bread of life, the true sustenance for all who choose to partake.
In a few moments, we will come to the table where, once again, we will partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which awaits us. Our deepest hunger can only be satiated through partaking of the body of Christ. And in our fellowship as believers, we share Christ with one another. Jesus longs for us to share our pains and sorrows as well as our joys and hopes. If we but allow, Jesus joins us on our journey, our Emmaus Road, and breaks bread with us.
Yes, Christmas can sometimes be difficult, for we are so often hungry. But the gift of God has come that we might partake of the bread of life. What a wonderful gift – the true meaning of Christmas.