Away in a Manger

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:7

We’re familiar with the Nativity story. Mary and Joseph found no room in the inn. She gave birth to the infant Jesus in a stable. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, but what is a manger? Why is it important to know that this is where the infant Jesus slept? It seems like such a little detail in the Nativity story, but it’s so meaningful when we reflect on it.

Jesus was placed in a manger when he was born. The infant Jesus slept in a box that animals ate from. A manger that contained food for donkeys and oxen also held the Bread of Life. “Manger” means “to eat” in French. I don’t think the infant Jesus had a manger instead of a crib by chance. His manger foreshadowed that someday his millions of followers would eat his body and drink his blood. Over 2,000 years after his birth, the Church is still united in the Eucharist. We do so in memory of him, but it’s not a symbol. We receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the humble form of bread and wine. Our Savior, the King of Israel, the Son of God came to earth in the humble form of an infant.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55). Read that again and let it sink in. Jesus wants us to eat his body and drink his blood because he himself is true food and true drink. Although Jesus is known for teaching in parables, in this case, he is not speaking allegorically. If we desire eternal life, the Eucharist is the only way to gain it. Jesus uses the word “abide” frequently in the Gospel of John. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, he abides in us and we abide in him. We’re united to Jesus and to each other as one body.

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Not only during Christmas, the “season of giving,” but every day, Jesus gives us the greatest gift we can ask for. Jesus Christ gives his whole self, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, his true presence to us in the Eucharist. When we have the gift of communion with Jesus Christ, what more could we ask for? When you hear the Nativity story or the Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” this Christmas, remember how our Savior came to earth with the humility of an infant and how he still gives his whole self to us in the humble form of the Eucharist.

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