Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle B

Christmas Day

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger”

It can be quite shocking to ponder on these words, for they suggest to us a story less glamorous than the sort of picture of the crib we usually see. On the whole, whether using copies of Old Masters or more recent illustrations, our Christmas cards bring us pictures of a nicely dressed Mary and Joseph, good-looking shepherds and wonderfully dressed kings. All is orderly and all are gathered round a beautiful Child in a clean crib.


The reality would have been somewhat different. This was a stable that was in use, in a little village of poor peasant people, not the backcloth for a picture of sanitised cattle. Mary and Joseph themselves were poor people who had just completed a long journey and were still in their travel-worn and dusty clothes. Shepherds of the day were regarded as the dregs of society, messy people, shifty and always on the move. The magi or wise men, as Matthew calls them, were not presented as kings but rather as foreigners, outsiders, searchers. And the manger? Not some cosily furnished cot, but a feeding trough for animals.


It is important to look at the grim reality of the scene for it brings us right to the heart of the mystery we celebrate. In the birth of this Child, God has entered into the reality of our human condition, has become of us, with all our messiness, our limitations and our failures. Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, among us with our flaws and brokenness. And he is laid in a manger, a feeding station, come to feed our hungry souls, to nourish and mend our faltering hearts. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of love divine.