So the debate rages on in our house regarding this Christmas tradition:
Do we put the baby Jesus in the manger or do we wait until Christmas for the bambino to make His appearance?
Here’s my wife, Marion’s take. “No. You wait until Christmas Eve and when you come home from Midnight Mass you put him in!”
Mind you, it’s hard to find a “Midnight Mass” that’s not at 10PM anymore, which by the way, is my all time biggest pet peeve. You’ve ruined a great joke: A guy calls the rectory and asks: “What time is Midnight mass, Father?”
Not any more! Even the Vatican has moved the time back. We’ve taken one of the most identifiable Catholic traditions in the world and blown it all to bits. And for what? An extra couple of hours of sleep for our choirs and staff? It’s once a year people! There’s just something about Mass at Midnight and I long for it.
So back to the manger. My second point is that I love my wife but about five years ago, she insisted on keeping the baby out of the crib and every time I’d put the figurine in, she’d take him out. So what did she do to fix my wagon? She hid the baby Jesus! But she ran into one small problem.
She hid Him so well that she LOST Him! We had no baby Jesus that year which I’m certain equates to like 4 millennia in purgatory for her and maybe for me for causing her to hide Him in the first place! In fact, we never found Jesus again. I sang amazing grace when we put up the manger the following year. Stand ins for Jesus included some kind of Lego Jesus, a snoopy figurine (which I immediately removed!) and some other kind of baby figurine in a stroller. I finally went out and got a new one a few years ago. Truth be told he’s bigger than Joseph, which can’t be good for his ego and I can clearly hear the Mary figurine saying something like “That kid had a head like a basketball!” (But her labor pains are a whole other post)
My take is simple: The Mary and Joseph figurines are kneeling. Why might they be doing that? For their health? Praying for no labor pains? (Again, that’s a whole other post!). The scene is the Nativity and without Jesus there IS no scene. So put that baby in the manger please!
But perhaps my view is indeed more reflective and theological? Removing Jesus from the manger would be much like what we often try to do: Control God. We want God when we want Him–only exactly when we need Him, even if we’ve forgotten about God for some time. Most of the time, Jesus can be out of the way until we call for him and that suits us just fine.
A manger scene calls to us a simple truth. We are not in control, and God comes to us to experience our humanity in all of it’s fragility. As a baby! God knows our life intimately. God becomes a baby at a time when infant mortality was likely to be quite high. Joseph probably had his hands full in protecting this child and Mary probably worried non-stop.
Taking Jesus away from the manger eliminates the need for the rest of the players with the possible exception of the animals who lived in that manger.
And speaking of animals, I hope you notice the sheepdog (Ripley!) and the Chihuahua (Haze) in our manger scene. So see, I’m not so inflexible with the scene that I won’t take a bit of poetic license. Besides, every kid should have a dog or two.
Friends who agree with my wife say that I’m denigrating the whole purpose of advent by “not waiting” for Jesus. But God is already with us. Maybe it’s God who waits for us? Maybe God is calling us to pay attention to His own vulnerability, reminding us that there are so many vulnerable in the world who live in poverty just like this Holy Family?
Whatever your thoughts are on the manger scene, I hope that the baby Jesus inspires you this Christmas season. And that leads me to one final question:
Three Kings? In the manger or on the other side of the room, getting closer each day?