Is 9:1-6 | Ps 96 | Ti 2:11-14 | Lk 2:1-14
The manger scene is one of the many beautiful traditions we as believers have around the Christmas season. In the weeks leading up to it, many of us have one on display in our homes whether on a mantle or under our Christmas tree. For some, no matter how early their nativity is set up, not until Christmas morning is the statue of the Baby Jesus laid in the manger.
There is a powerful symbolic meaning behind this ancient gesture. It points to our longing for salvation, for someone to come and take away all the causes of our suffering, that the prophet Isaiah speaks about in today’s first reading: war, oppression, violence, and injustice. It points to how empty our world becomes when we don’t make a place for Jesus. And it points to how empty our hearts are because we desire something more than this world can ever offer us.
This Christmas, many of us may still be experiencing some emptiness in our hearts and in our homes. Some of us are mourning the loss of a loved one this year, and Christmas only makes that loss more real and painful. Some might be lamenting a broken relationship or experiencing strains within their family, which makes getting together with loved ones all the more stressful and sad.
You might even be in the darkest hour of your life. Hope and happiness might seem impossible for you, and you might not be able to see any way forward. If that’s the case, take courage. It was precisely for you that Jesus was born. Divinity became human so that humanity could become divine! He fits perfectly into the emptiness in your heart, the emptiness in your home, the emptiness in your life. Make a place for him in the manger of your soul, and he will gladly be born to fill it with light, peace, and joy.
None of us likes to see an empty space. It is tempting to want to fill it with something. And we are impatient. We don’t want to wait to fill that space up. Rather, we want to put something there now.
Christmas is an important time to ask ourselves how we may have been filling up the empty space in the manger of our hearts with something other than Jesus. There is a reason that Jesus was born in a stable - because there was no room for him anywhere else in Bethlehem. And the same is true today. There are many homes, hearts, and even many countries where there is no room for Jesus, where he is not welcome. If we are not welcoming Jesus into that empty space, then we have certainly put something else there. Something that is less than Jesus. Something that can never take his place.
The way for us to discover what that “something else” might be is by answering a simple question, “I would finally be happy if only I had (blank).” How would you fill in that blank? Would it be money? Would it be if someone you love loved you back? Would it be power and status? Would it be more pleasure and comfort? Whatever it may be, chances are it’s what you and I are putting in the place of Jesus. And chances are, it isn’t cutting it.
Just over a week ago, our parish offered the opportunity to view “A Charlie Brown Christmas” together. And nearly all of us are rather familiar with Linus and his security blanket that he always carries with him. But when he takes center stage and begins his delivery with “lights please,” and then gets to the part where the angels say to the shepherds, “fear not,” he drops his security blanket. And he can let go of that blanket because Jesus’ birth gives him true security.
Are we holding on to something so tightly that it’s keeping us from opening our arms and embracing Christ? Today is the day to let go of it—or at least to loosen our grip on it—so that we can find true security in Jesus Christ.
Earth received her King over two thousand years ago, but there is still so much emptiness and pain in our world. He himself told us that we would always have the poor with us, that there would be wars, and persecution throughout history. He was born into this beautiful world with all its suffering so that he could be with us through it all. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Jesuit priest, scientist, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher, and teacher once claimed that God entered his world like an artist entering his studio—which is to say, with utter confidence and familiarity. This broken world is indeed the artist’s studio, but it’s filled with trashed, broken, and half-finished pieces. Paintings of the Nativity often depict a worn-out and demolished landscape with structures in ruin, illustrating the state in which our Savior arrived.
Putting Christ into that empty space in our mangers doesn’t magically make everything better. But it does assure us that we are not alone. It does assure us that we are loved. And it does give us hope that everything will turn out well in the end. Jesus’ presence here is as real and as powerful as it was on the day of his birth. He made his home among us so that he could bring us to his eternal home in heaven.
May the birth of Christ fill every empty space in our hearts, in our homes, and in our world, bringing the light of hope that no darkness could ever threaten to extinguish—not when the Divine Artist cares so much for his beautiful work.