A Pastoral Word
Advent: Making Room at the Manger
Each year, as I get ready to set up our family's nativity scene, one question always comes to mind... "Who gets to be near Jesus?" Spread out before the wooden stable are an array of various characters, some distinguishable and some not, all ready to be placed, all ready to find their space at the manager next to baby Jesus. The Mary figurine is the easiest to be placed. After all, she is the mother and should probably be the closet to the baby. But when we think about Mary's story, is she really the type of person we want near Jesus? She is an unwed mother, someone who would not have been welcomed by the majority of people during that day and time, let alone celebrated by the religious institution. And yet, there she is, placed close to Jesus, loved and empowered to sing of God's prophetic grace.
Next come the shepherds. In our modern day manger scenes, they have been cleaned up and sanitized. But in real life, the shepherds would have been covered in dirt and grime while wearing the lovely fragrance of eau de sheep and other animal. Shepherds would not have been welcomed in most houses. They were poor. They were the lowest of the low of the job professions and yet, they were key figures in the telling of the Good News! The shepherds were the first to hear that a child had been born unto us by a heavenly chorus of angels.
Next come the wise men. They are decked out in gold, looking all important, bearing gifts for the new born king, ready to make their entrance into our humble manger scenes. On the surface, they are exactly the type of people who should be near Jesus…important, royalty, people who understand the significance of this moment. Yet when we take another look at these wise men characters, we notice something else. They look differently from everyone else. They were foreign outsiders, coming to Bethlehem from other countries. They were Gentiles who would not have been embraced by Israel. And yet, they were the only ones who understood the meaning of the new star in the sky. All the others, the religious leaders, the powers that be, the insiders had to be reminded of the prophecy which stated "and you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel." These outsiders have a place of honor, close to the baby Jesus, all because they understood how God was at work in that moment bringing healing and wholeness for all of God's children while the insiders trembled in fear.
Our manger scene is almost complete. Only a few pieces remain to be placed, you know the occasional sheep, the donkey, maybe a goat or two. But wait…we left a figure out of the scene. Thankfully, he is marked on the bottom with the name "Joseph." Otherwise, how would we know? This figure could easily pass for a shepherd or the inn keeper. There is nothing to distinguish him from all the other characters in our manger scene, which is sad really, because without Joseph, this scene doesn't work! Joseph is the needed piece of the puzzle. He is the one with the royal lineage, tracing it all the way back to King David, the promised line from which the Messiah will come. Yet, even with the right credentials and the right background, Joseph still doesn't quite fit in. After all, he broke with tradition. He took Mary as his wife, even after he knew she was with child, something that would have excluded him from certain circles. But in the manger scene, he is welcomed, all because he did as the angel commanded.
In this most holy, sacred moment, we experience the power of God's love. It brought together a group of
Or as one person put it…"[The story of] Christ's birth, [the story of] the manger reminds us of the choices we have when facing our neighbors. Yes, it's easier to declare "no room in the inn," especially for the unruly, the burdened and destitute. But when we make up our minds to find space at the manger [for all of God's people], the true face of Christ has the opportunity to emerge."
This year, I want to invite everyone to join us on our Advent journey as we make room at the manger for all so that everyone can find their place close to Jesus.