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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: On being mangers ……
Date/time/service: Christmas Day 2020 Zoom Eucharist
Passage of scripture: Luke 2.1-20
Books have been written, television programmes made and now websites created based entirely on the strange and amusing things that children say. A child once returned from the burial of an aged relative convinced that the priest had said ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and into the hole it goes’! A little girl who was learning the Lord’s Prayer was heard to ask Our Father in heaven to ‘deliver us from e mail’! And a young boy wrote about the Christmas story, ‘And because there was no room at the Inn they had to stay round the back in a stable and because there was nowhere to lay the baby they had to use the manager’. Wouldn’t it be great if managers could be that useful?!
Of course it wasn’t a manager that was used it was a manger. The dictionary says that a manger is; ‘A trough or an open box in which feed for livestock is placed.’ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, was laid in a trough.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to lead a pilgrimage from my parish to Rome and Assisi. In Rome we visited many huge and glorious churches. The focal point of all of these churches was always an ornate altar. Most of these churches were built on the graves of saints and often the altar was directly over the grave, or, underneath the altar there were precious relics of saints, bits of bones or hair and sometimes bits of holy objects like splinters from the cross on which Jesus was crucified. In one church, underneath the high altar, they had a piece of the manger in which Jesus was laid. When we visited, the church was crowded and I made my way down some narrow steps, leading below the high altar, to take a look at this holy and precious object. I was dressed like a priest and must have looked English because as I neared the glass casket which contained the holy relic a young woman approached me, I think she was American, and she asked me what was in the casket. I said it was supposed to be a piece of the manger, adding cynically with a smile, ‘you can believe that or not’! ‘Oh’, she said, ‘I do’ and she went over and knelt in prayer before the altar. Chastened and ashamed of my cynicism I immediately climbed the narrow stairs and never did take a good look at the ancient splintered bit of wood. But this encounter made me think.
Was it a piece of the real manger? If it was, who took it out of the stable? Maybe one of the shepherds took it or one of the wise men? What did the Inn keeper think when he realised his manger had been pinched? And if it is real how did it get to Rome? Should such an object be a focus of prayer? If it isn’t real, does it matter? If it helps some people to pray, is it such a bad thing that it’s just a piece of wood?
In the end I decided I should have been much less cynical – if the piece of the manger, genuine or not, helps some people to pray then that’s fine and good. But, if those prayers are only focussed on what happened in the actual manger two thousand years ago, then it is not helpful, indeed it may be hugely damaging because we should be celebrating the truth of Christmas today not just the truth of the first Christmas.
On the first Christmas night the manger held Jesus. God incarnate, literally, God en-fleshed, God made real. Mary and Joseph recognised him as being special, they adored him as their own child but also as God’s son. The shepherds and the wise men also honoured him, they came to the manger which contained Jesus and worshipped him in awe and reverence. Today we remember that scene with our own crib, in our music, liturgy and prayers. But if that is all we do there is no point in us being here at all. If all we do today is remember what happened two thousand years ago we should have stayed in bed or get on with opening some presents.
To return to where we began – manager or manger – (and this is the ‘cheesy bit of my Christmas sermon) not all of us are managers but we all should be mangers. I am not too concerned about whether there are bits of the actual manger that held Jesus underneath lavish altars in beautiful churches but I am concerned that every single person who celebrates Christmas this year realises that they are actual mangers today. We hold Jesus. We are called to reveal Jesus to the world. Our actions are mangers, our actions at work, at school, at home, should contain, hold Jesus within them. Our words, the things we say, whether at work or at school or at home, are mangers, they should contain, hold Jesus. Think about it, where are the shepherds and wise men of today to find Jesus, where are those who seek Jesus going to find him but in us? In our actions, in our struggle for justice and peace, in our compassion for the vulnerable and weak and in our love for our families, friends and enemies …… this is where the seekers will find Jesus today.
A priest once told me that after a large School Christmas service he was tidying up and noticed that the baby Jesus who had been in the manger in the crib was not there. Jesus was missing. Jesus had been nicked! He had to ring the headteacher and after a great deal of detective work a very embarrassed schoolgirl delivered Jesus back to the vicar to go back in the manger in the crib.
Ironically, we should all follow the example of that naughty school girl. Whenever we visit a crib we should take Jesus away with us. We might not all be managers but we are all mangers, we are to hold Jesus in everything we do and everything we say everyday. Not just at Christmas, not just on Sundays, but everyday.
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