The Wonder of a Manger

The Wonder of a Manger

Pic 1.png

One of the things that makes me laugh about nativity sets is that they seem to make a stable and a manger very pretty. But sometimes things get so different.

Pic 2.png

From left to right: the shepherd has used his cell phone for directions to the stable, his (non-GMO) sheep is wearing a sweater (probably hand-knit and, probably made from sustainably-gathered wool), there are solar panels on the roof of the stable, the cow is stamped "100% organic, Joseph is taking a selfie (of course), Mary has a Starbucks coffee container in her hand, the cow's feed is marked "gluten-free" (not visible in this pic), there's a drone on the roof of the stable - probably representing either an angel or the star, the three wise men have arrived on Segways, carrying Amazon boxes. But of all the versions of the manger that I have seen, one has really captured my attention today. As you will see, it’s very different.

 After the fall of the Iron Curtain, and Western travelers could get more access, some of the Soviet Union’s environmental and humanitarian tragedies became more evident. In 1994, Will Fish was one of the Americans who answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. Here’s how Will tells the story:

 It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear for the first time the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about six years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

Quickly I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately—until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much so I thought maybe if I kept him warm that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” So I got into the manger and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—for always.[1]

 That’s the wonder of a manger—an almighty God who comes as a baby, born in stable instead of a palace, lying in feeding trough instead of a cradle. That’s the wonder of a manger—to have this little one look at us from the straw and tell us we can stay with him for always. That’s the wonder of a manger.