Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Away in a Manger"

When I was a child my favorite Christmas carol was “Away in A Manger.” We sang a version in which the chorus divided into two parts and half of us would sing “asleep” and then the other half would echo “asleep” in lower tones. Then all together we’d sing, “Asleep the Lord of all.” I loved hearing the volley of voices, but I especially loved thinking about that new born baby in his straw bed, the animals looking on, his mother tenderly swaddling him.

Being a city girl, for me the word manger was synonymous with bed or cradle. No one ever explained to me that a manger is a box used to feed animals. In other words, it is a feeding tough. Our word manger comes from the French word manger which means “to eat.” In Bethlehem the manger in which Mary placed her Son would most probably have been carved out of stone.
stone manger

As I learned these facts about the manger my earlier imaginings began to grow. I now picture Joseph carefully cleaning out the feeding trough worrying about his young wife and the responsibility he had to protect her and the child. I see him gathering the best straw to make a soft nesting place for the baby. I wonder if Mary swaddled the baby herself or if someone was there to help her. According to the law of Moses it was unlawful for a man to witness child birth, but if no one else was available perhaps Joseph had to serve as midwife and nurse. Perhaps he first swaddled the baby and placed Him in the manger.

Whoever did it, I doubt that at the moment the significance of what they did registered with them. Here they were in the House of Bread placing The Bread of Life not in a cradle, but on a feeding trough, a symbolic offering that invites you and I to partake of the Eternal Bread.

I can’t think of that manger cradling the Bread of Life now without being reminded of the weekly feeding tough—the Sacrament table—I visit to partake of the Bread of Life. As I ponder on it, I can hear the words, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger" (John 6:35). "He that eatheth of this bread shall live for ever" (John 6:58), and I am remind that the Bethlehem manger offers Eternal sustenance to all mankind.


Jacqueline said...

All of your Christmas posts are wonderful Sherrie. I am glad you mentioned them in RS. I am your newest follower!

Martha said...

Wonderful. It makes me think...if we are being fed from a manger, we are like sheep...and then I think of the Isaiah verse, "All we like sheep have gone astray..." etc. and so many other verses!