In my post Come to the Manger Who Will You Invite? I shared that Kenneth Bailey believes Jesus’ family was not abandoned in a stable but was surrounded by friends and family at his birth. To this birth celebration the shepherds, outcasts from their society, and the wise men, Gentile foreigners were also invited. Bailey also points out that Jesus did not come in the expected place or way. The Jews expected that through the birth of the Messiah great things would happen in the city of Jerusalem and through this the city would be glorified.
Although the glorious events projected for honouring the city of Jerusalem never happened, the Gospel authors perceived them to be taking place in the birth of Jesus. Around the CHILD there was a great light and the glory of the Lord appeared. To the CHILD came Arab wise men from the desert on camels bringing gold and frakincense. Shepherds visited the CHILD, not the city. The great hopes for the city were transferred to the child in a manger. Indeed, the glory of the Lord shone around about the CHILD. This shift from the city to the child is significant.
The birth stories de-Zionise the tradition. Hopes and expectations for the city are seen as fulfilled in the birth of the child. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, (54)
This idea has made me wonder: What are the unexpected places in which Jesus is appearing? And who do we welcome to the manger? Who else should we invite to this celebration that may otherwise be ignored or excluded – the prostitutes, the sex traffickers, those in prison, people of other racial backgrounds, other religions, other sexual persuasions, the poor and the homeless, even those we are estranged from. Do we think there is a place for everyone at the manger? If so how do we extend that invitation so that these people feel welcome?
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the reflections in our new devotional A Journey Toward Home, is about the French custom of santons, a French custom in which clay models of villagers are positioned around the manger bringing their gifts to the Christ child.
I love this idea of all our neighbours, those we enjoy and those we don’t want to have anything to do with, clustered around the manger, invited into that place of intimate hospitality with God. So lets create our own “santons” this Advent and Christmas season, santons of words, photos, and actions, not figures of clay.
This concept will be the focus for the Advent/Christmas posts on the blog this year. When I first posted this invitation, several people responded with their ideas of where and how we could gather with friends and strangers around the manger in church, in homeless shelters, in refugee camps, on the borders that keep out the unwanted. I am also making this my personal focus for the season and invite you to join me.
Create Your Own Come to the Manger Wreath.
What are the unexpected places in which you have seen the Christ child appear and the gospel story be lived out?
Who are the friends and strangers you will welcome to the manger this year?
Read Hebrews 12:1-3 several times slowly.
Sit in silence for a few minutes thinking of those you would like to see around the manger. What places come to mind? Where are the unexpected places that the gospel story is being lived out? Who are the people that you think of? What family, friends and neighbours do you see yourself together with? Who are those that have died – family, mentors and saints through the ages whose lives inspired and encouraged you? Who have you ignored or turned your back on that needs to be welcomed? Who have you despised as the shepherds were despised? Perhaps you need to seek forgiveness and invite them to the circle around the manger? Who are the foreigners that should be there perhaps people of other faiths, cultures and sexual orientation?
Now get together a piece of white poster board, a pair of scissors and some glue.
Print out the manger scene above or photograph your own nativity scene and paste it in the centre of the poster board.
Find photos, paintings, icons or other images of those who came to your mind. Print them out.
Glue them in a wreath around the image of the manger. Leave some space for more images to be added as they come to mind.
Hang it in a prominent place in your home.
Use it as focus for prayer throughout the Advent and Christmas season. Add photos and images as you are interact with other members of your community who should be included.
Send us your photos and tell us your stories.
This is part of a series on Christmas/Advent resources. There is a free download available with all the links or follow these links: