Before Christmas is over and we put away the creche until next year, I wanted to share a poem one of my directees sent me titled How to Be a Manger .
This Christmas I pray for you that you will be a manger.
I pray that you will be empty—
Empty of all the clutter and distraction of life,
Empty to receive the newborn Christ.
I pray that you will be sturdy—
Sturdy to bear your personal and secret burdens,
Sturdy to bear the presence of God within.
I pray that you will be soft inside—
Soft inside for the healing embrace of yourself & others,
Soft inside to give God a place in peace.
I pray that you will be still—
Still to attend to the cry of the poor
Still to attend to the whisper of God’s prompting voice.
I pray that you will be ready—
Ready to receive whatever God’s gifts for you,
Ready to use your gifts for whatever God’s call to you.
This Christmas I pray for you—
That you will be a manger.
Update: I had been told that this poem was written by Barbara Germiat. However, I learned from a comment from Ms. Germiat that the poem is not hers, but is rather based on her poem by that name. With her permission, here is the original:
On How to Be a Manger
Be soft inside
At Christmas Eve Mass last evening we listened to St. Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus and to the words of O Holy Night: A thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Today we celebrate the audacious claim that through the love of God, the Word became flesh. That God’s longing for us is so great God became human to bring us to wholeness. God becomes human and shares our lives in the deepest, most intimate possible way.
And that is something that demands a response from us. So as we kneel before the creche this morning, we might want to reflect on what that response is.
In these final days before Christmas Day, Dorothy Day’s words from December 1945 offer a fitting reminder:
It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.
The creche on the mantle is lovely, but it is not about beautiful creches.
The music at our Christmas liturgies are inspiring, but it is not about the music.
The lights on the decorated tree sparkle, but it is not about the tree and the lights.
It is about seeing Christ’s face and hearing Christ’s voice in all those we encounter. It is about welcoming Christ in whatever form he appears to us.
As we are cleaning out the leftovers from the Christmas feasts we enjoyed with our families (and are resolving to exercise more and eat less once the holidays are over), it is good to remind ourselves that the liturgical season of Christmas, that began with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve, does not conclude until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We take time during this season to continue our celebration of the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, as well as the rest of our slavation story – a story that ends in death and resurrection.
During this Christmas season, I am reminded of these words of Thomas Merton that I put on my website the other day:
The mystery of Christmas lays upon us all a debt and an obligation to the rest of mankind and to the whole created universe. We who have seen the light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the grace that has been given us, to make known the presence of the Savior to the ends of the earth. This we will do not by preaching the glad tidings of His coming, but above all by revealing Him in our lives. Christ is born to us today, in order that He may appear to the whole world through us.
Christmas Day is behind us (at least until next year), but our task of making known the presence of Christ continues, not only during this liturgical Christmas season, but every day of the year. And so we need to continually reflect on the question: What am I doing to reveal Christ in my life?
At yesterday’s Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany at Christ the King, the music during the Preparation of the Gifts was Daniel Kantor’s Night of Silence (and Silent Night). It is a song that always touches me deeply; I’ve loved it since I first heard it sung by a choir my daughter sang in during high school.
On one level, it sounds like an Advent song, the verses ending with “its flame will be dying soon,” “soon will we know of the morning” and “we wait for your loving Son.
But sung the week after Christmas, with the words of Silent Night accompanying the final verse, the words serve as a reminder of our need for Christ – a reminder of exactly what it means to us that God became flesh and dwelt among us. And so, more than anything else, it generates a profound gratitude – and joy – at the gift we have been given.
Here is one version of the song:
To us a child is born, to us a child is given! Christmas blessings to you all!
We all have our favorite Christmas songs. For as long as I can remember, mine has been O Holy Night, sung by Johnny Mathis. Doubtless no small part of that is that I associate (always have and always will) the song with my father – I can still, more than nine years after his death, close my eyes and see his face and hear his voice as he emphatically sang out with Johnny many times every Christmas season, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices…”
Some part is doubtless also the sweet sounds of Mathis’ voice, which I so love listening to.
But, in the final analysis, it is the words, words that express our joy this Christmas morning. In a world of sin, Jesus “appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
On this Christmas morning, with love and blessings, here is the song I love so much.
Update: Although I didn’t know it when I wrote my post this morning, the prelude to the 11:00 Mass we attended at Our Lady of Lourdes included Elena singing O Holy Night in French and English. Wonderful Christmas gift; hope my Dad in heaven enjoyed hearing his grandaughter singing a song he loved.
Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!
Today we celebrate the Incarnation. The Word becomes flesh and makes his dwelling among us. Not the most important event in the Christian faith. (That would be Easter.) But an event that changes everything.
God becomes human, allowing us a share of God’s divine nature. God becoming human, giving us a taste of what it means to live a fully human life.
The incarnation of Jesus tells us both who we are and who we can be – participants in God’s grand plan. A few years ago, I quoted an excerpt from Ian Oliver’s poem, A Christmas Prayer. The message is important enough to share again:
If God can lie down in a cattle-trough,
Is any object safe from transformation?
If peasant girls can be mothers to God,
Is any life safe from the invasion of the eternal?
If all this could happen, O God,
What places of darkness on our eath
Are pregnant with light waiting to be born this night?
Everything is changed. Nothing is safe from transformation. No one removed from the invasion of the eternal. All darkness is pregnant with light waiting to be born. And each of us has a task in bringing that about.
A blessed and merry Christmas to all.