Out of the infinite blue vastness we call God, the Word was breathed forth into the reality we call time. The stuff of God came to be, a small brown seed planted in the universe of matter and humankind. I am the stuff of God, God is the stuff of me. And it would seem that Paul, once so intent on destroying that seed, would experience the fullness of it possibility that came to us in a manger in Bethlehem, on a road as out of the way, dirty and dusty, as the stable in which Jesus was born.
The infancy narratives of Jesus are stories fraught with the symbols and the message of faith, in order to bring others to the belief in the Word become flesh. The image of Jesus as an infant is the image of what all babies are: infinite possibilities. Each child comes fresh from its mother, bringing with it all that it might be and become in the world. This Christ child represents for us the Christ-self that is present as all possibility planted in us at conception and coming to be in the world at our births.
It is this hidden self that is the Christ-self within each of us that Paul prays will be strong – come to its full potential and realization within us. Our lives and our very being, ourselves, are the manger in which Christ comes. Surrounded by angel songs and the lowest of shepherds and most notable kings, come the stories of the improbable advent of life, the hope of Israel, lying in a manger. A manger – a feeding trough for animals. The infinite possibility of the God-life is housed incarnate in a plain, wood-hewn manger, a sign for celestial beings, the simple and the greatly adorned. Into the ordinariness of life he came.
As I watched the television last evening, I wanted to turn it off at one point. Numb finally to what seems like the ultimate rejection and devaluing of human life. I kept saying over and over: No. Why? Please? We are in the hard ground of winter. These days are truly dark. Herod is about for destruction. At some point I just had to let it all go. I had to become an empty manger. Even as I watched the gospels making a path through the world, I had to wait. Helpless, dependent, just as the Christ-self chose to come into the world and remained…this is hard. This is another kind of fear and trembling.
Yet. We are the manger into which this new life, the Christ-life, has come and will come. I need to believe that. I need to be carved out, a place from which love can come to feed the world. A child will lead us. The Christ-self, the part of me that is open, receptive, will love and lead.
Rilke’s words from his Letter to a Young Poet once again come to mind: Celebrate Christmas…in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working in him…be patient and without resentment and think that the least we can do is make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.
And so, we are manger and we are ground as well; softened so that the small brown seed might push its way through to a new Spring. The poets words give me hope: We can begin him. We can await his becoming in us and in the world. Our hearts can be the waiting mangers set upon the softened ground of the self even in this seemingly intractable heart of winter.