A popular method of meditating on the Scriptures is to imagine ourselves as characters in the passage we’re reading. We’ve all been the blind man, or Martha, or Zacchaeus—this exercise reminds us of the reality that Jesus still speaks to us, visits us, and heals us. The Nativity scene, too, has many wonderful perspectives in it, including those of the shepherds and the Magi. Yet, I know plenty of college students who aren’t feeling quite as collected as the shepherds this time of year, or quite as regal as the Magi, and they’re not willing just yet to identify themselves with the cows in the stable.
Are there other characters here that reflect the weakness and brokenness that many of us feel—and more keenly than ever at Christmastime? I would propose the manger.
Strange as it may sound to compare ourselves to inanimate objects, aren’t there occasions when we feel inanimate, only serving a function? Without Christ, we lay under the cover of darkness like the darkness of a stable, missing even the dignity of light that would acknowledge a human being lived there. Don’t we also make ourselves into fodder for animals, for all the vices and passions we yield to? We seem to become, sometimes for long periods, simple food for the beasts that surround us, nothing more than a container for fleeting things, trampled and digested.
On Christmas day, however, we encounter not our fruit, but Mary’s. We lay depleted, cold, unclean, and solitary, expecting the final sentence of death and complete isolation—and an infant is placed on our chest. Unlike the animals, He’s not there to take bits and pieces of us to devour, but to use our whole selves as His resting place. Instead, He’ll even become our food one day.
Imagine how foreign the wood of a manger is to human skin—and imagine how foreign His warm and breathing perfection must feel to hearts as solid as ours. Where before we lay paralyzed by sin, we lie still for Christ in a time of rest and restoration. Mary arranges us to make us more suitable to Him. I like to think of His breath against the hay, against our hair, in total silence—except for the objecting noises of the animals, who are losing one victim through the appearance of another.
What do you do in a moment like that?
I’m sure we’re tempted to run and shout, or at least—like Martha—to serve busily, but how can we do that with a baby on our chest? And anyway, would we have the strength yet to do those things? There’s no need even to sing to Him, since He’s already asleep, and would we be bold enough to touch Him? The time for action will come in a minute, in an hour, but for now, we breathe carefully so as not to disturb Him—and we notice we’re breathing again, animate. We probably started to do that when He did.
When our worries, academic or personal, weigh on us this season, we need to remember that something else weighs on us as well: the slight but indispensable mass of the newborn Christ. If we take a moment to whittle all the other weights down into just that one, maybe we’ll find the sort of peace carved out for the weary and the brokenhearted—the featherlike weight that turns straw into gold.