advent reflection for December 12, 2021 by second year student lydia hoffman.
Advent reflection for December 14, 2021 by second year student meredith barges
A time of wonder and hope comes alive in the details of how the infant Jesus came to lay peacefully in a manger in Bethlehem.
Looking at Nativity scenes, like this one, what do you notice? Who is gathered around the Christ Child?
We can easily identify Mary and Joseph and others from the nativity story: the three magi, the shepherds who were out pastoring their sheep when they told by angels of Jesus’s miraculous birth.
What other kinds of worshippers do you see? Angels? What about animals? Sheep, a donkey, an ox?
In one of the earliest depictions of the nativity, found on this 4th century Roman Christian sarcophagus, the infant Jesus appears along with an ox and a donkey. In a 1415 Corpus Christi celebration, the Ordo Paginarum notes that Jesus was lying between an ox and a donkey. These two animals are the ones most commonly represented in nativity art.
At my Unitarian Universalist church in Burlington, VT, children are invited to bring in stuffed animals to fill out the nativity scene. So I’ve seen there with Baby Jesus bears, crocodiles, unicorns, and even once a whale!
Yet, here is a mystery. You might be surprised, like I was, to learn, in the gospels there is no mention of animals in the nativity narrative.
How can that be when we know that animals certainly had a place in the first Christmas? The Holy Family stayed the night inside a barn at a crowded inn, after all. Many of those guests at the inn, on a winter night, would have had traveled with animals, like Mary and Joseph did. So, we know that there would have been animals nearby – at the very least, the donkey that Mary rode from Nazareth, and sheep under the care of the shepherds who came straight from the fields, and possibly camels ridden by the wise men on their journey to Bethlehem.
What the animals did for shelter that memorable night, the Gospel story does not say. But over the centuries, Christian artists have helped to fill in the picture for us. On their canvasses, the blue-veiled Mother sits or bows radiantly near Jesus. AND more often than not, the animals are right there, front and center—often in a central place in the composition. They look on at the Christ Child, hovering directly over Him, directly over the manger.
Remember, the animals were the first ones to share at Christmas, making space in their stable for the Christ child and His parents. Remember, Mary and Joseph, when they could find no place to stay, found refuge and acceptance among the animals.
As described in the Gospel of Luke (2:12), “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
So, we know, the newborn Jesus was laid in a manger. This detail would have surprised Jesus’ first followers, and it should stand out to us as peculiar too. “Why is baby Jesus in a manger?”
A manger, of course, is an open box or trough used to hold food for animals. Typically made of wood or stone, it is located on the ground or slightly above the ground, at a height for animals to feed.
In nativity scenes, we can imagine the manger’s curved edges, which typically held hay or grain for cattle, horses, donkeys and other animals, has become the perfect crib, the perfect bed, for the Christ child, its curved edges hugging in around Him as He sleeps.
On the first night we find Jesus sleeping in the manger, exactly in the place where animals feed; his body literally in a place for food, where hay and grains are eaten.
The word manger comes to us from the Old French mangier, to eat or chew, that earthiest of animal actions—and for Christians, one of the most sacred.
Christians have long reflected on the profoundly symbolic act of placing Jesus in a manger, finding a connection to the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus himself becomes food for humanity.
St. Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century explains, “The setting of Christ’s birth points us to the Eucharist. Since through sin man becomes like the beasts, Christ lies in the trough where animals feed, offering them, not hay, but his own body as life-giving bread.”
So, why are the animals in the nativity scene hovering so close? What are they doing, their heads hung right over the top of the manger? Are they looking for their hay? Are they adoring Jesus? Are they wondering how this human child ended up sleeping on their dinner plate?
In this vast cast of characters, who are we, the faithful, invited to identify with the most?
Equal to the magic of three wise men worshipping and offering sumptuous gifts of gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh to a foreign child born in a stable, the presence of the humble animals in nativity scenes invites us into a time of wonder and contemplation.
What of the innocence and humility of the animals that shared their shelter and manger with the Christ child that night? And what of the expansiveness of the divine vision (the theophany) so bright as to reach all creaturely hearts – sheep and donkey, oxen and camel, elephant and human? What vision of peace there?
Advent Reflection for December 17 comes from 2nd year student Benjamin Geeding.
Waiting can be terrible. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored. Holding out for something which may or may not be good.
Waiting can be terrible. It can cause a kind of pit in the stomach, an awareness that there are things out of one’s control. Waiting communicated that there lies something both out of reach, for it has not yet come, and inevitably will arrive, or else why wait at all. Waiting can make one feel stuck, for what waiting promises will only come when it is ready to do so.
Waiting can be terrible. It’s almost like anxiety. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored. Wrapped in something not asked for but yet appears.
Waiting can be terrible. Will I be caught unaware? What if I’m not enough? What if for what I’m waiting does not welcome me?
Waiting can be terrible. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored.
in Advent I am reminded that waiting is redeemed. For what is coming shall redeem all, including the terribleness of waiting.
So come, long awaited one, and do what you will.
Redeem our waiting. Repair the wrong. Make it right.
advent reflection for december 19 comes from 2nd year student lydia hoffman.
It has been a long time coming, love that is.
This season, filled with the hustle and bustle of Christmas carols, silent nights, late-night last-minute shopping trips, worship planning.
It has been a long time coming.
Love: perhaps something we take for granted
Feels like a present we will unwrap from beneath the tree. Love feels like a neatly tied up bow, this time of year, that we must wait for, that we cannot yet give, or else what will be left?
If we give away all of our love before Christmas morning, what will be under the tree?
Winter comes before we are ready. It is a long time coming, a weighing down of snow, a glistening of icy streets. Winter feels like something we must wait and wait and wait for. Like something we anticipate, and never are truly, really ready for its arrival. But what if, we had been preparing all this time? With the leaves that change, the branches that stand firm, it has been a long time coming, winter that is.
The love of Christ has been here for us through each changing leaves season. It has been here for us before we wrapped it up in bows and gave it a name. This love comes each year whether we are ready or not. The love of community, of one another. Love has been here all along, and we need not wrap it up. We need not wait.
Now is the time to embrace the cozy winter season. This is love. This is advent.