With Advent upon us, we begin a period of reflection, repentance and expectation. We await the coming of the baby in the manger. It’s a good time to contemplate the significance of the manger. Of all the places that God could have directed Mary and Joseph to spend the night, why a stall with a manger?
We often hear that it was a place of poverty and lowliness. It was a humble beginning. The God of the universe condescended to low estate to meet us where we are in our infirmity. This, of course, is true, but there’s even more to it than that.
Flash forward to the Last Supper. Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body. Take and eat.” (Matt 26:26) Rewind back to the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter six where Jesus says we must eat His flesh to have eternal life. His followers asked in horror, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Rewind just prior to that and we see Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes. Not only were the people fed, but there were baskets of food left over. There was no shortage. There was plenty for everyone. Then Jesus informs them they must eat His flesh. Miraculously, there will be plenty for everyone.
It all began in a manger. Jesus wasn’t placed on the ground on a bed of straw or a pile of wadded up cloth. There is a reason the manger was specifically mentioned and emphasized. A manger is a container for food. This baby would be food. Like the Passover lamb, He was meant to be sacrificed and eaten. So, He was placed in a food trough.
But, how can one, little baby be food for the entire world? We might as well ask, “How can this man make so much food from a few loaves and fishes?” or, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” With God, all things are possible.
Our role is not to completely understand this amazing reality. Our role is to take Jesus at His word. We can walk away from it disturbed (like many of His followers did in John 6). We can try to rationalize it away as merely a metaphor. Or, we can embrace it like Peter and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
This Advent, as Nativity scenes begin to pop up here and there, remember the purpose of a manger. Remember the loaves and fishes. Remember that Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Remember that Jesus calls us to “take and eat” of Himself to sustain our eternal life.