A view from the manger

by H. Stephen Shoemaker

Novelist Oscar Hijuelos wrote at Christmas of “The majesty of the child” and of Jesus as “perhaps the most wanted child in the history of the world.” The Christmas story helps us think of the majesty of every child and of every child as dearly wanted. It changes our view of things.

Consider the shepherds who ran to the manger, the shunted aside low-wage earners of that day. They were visited by an angel who said: “For unto you (yes, you!) is born this day in David’s city a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” This Jesus would preach good news to the poor, the excluded, the forgotten, the ones with their backs against the wall.

Or the three wise men who came with gifts from the east, from what is Iran and Iraq today. What an inter-religious gathering! A generous Christianity opens in respectful dialogue with other religions. Catholic theologian Hans Kung said with prescience years ago: “The prerequisite of peace among nations is peace among religions.” Can we do this here, in our community?

And we should not forget the animals at the manger, itself a rough feeding trough for animals: a cow, a donkey, sheep and surely a dog. The first manger scene as we know it today was created in the thirteenth century by St. Francis as he assembled a live manger with all the characters, including the animals. We can hear his hymn, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia!” Any true redemption of the world includes the care of the earth and its creatures.

And think of what would soon happen: Jesus, Mary and Joseph traveling as refugees into Egypt, fleeing the murderous and insane rage of King Herod. The most often repeated command in the Hebrew Scriptures was the command to care for the widows, orphans and strangers, or immigrants. The Christmas story urges us to consider with practical kindness and political resolve the refugees of the world.

The Savior of the world was not Caesar—though he was officially called that—but this tiny child in a manger, a makeshift crib for a makeshift night. And the low were lifted high and the poor, the refugee, the over-looked and the foreigners were given their place at the manger of God. It is quite a vision for us today.

So let us pause these days, take a deep breath or two, and hear the multitude of the heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all. The Glory of God is peace, good will to all.

H. Stephen Shoemaker is pastor of Alliance congregational partner Grace Baptist Church in Statesville,
N.C.

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