This year during Advent (the time leading up to Christmas), I kept wondering; what will I find when I kneel at the manger on Christmas? The question would not leave me. I asked others what they thought they would see when they too knelt at the manger. The answers were as simple as the baby Jesus, his mother Mary, his earthly father Joseph. As conversations deepened and as Christmas drew nearer, as I made the journey closer and closer to the stable, I heard words like, hope, promise fulfilled, joy, warmth, love, peace.
Those words triggered something within me. Why was that I wondered? As I got closer to Bethlehem, as I grew tired from the journey, both physically and emotionally, it dawned on me what I was looking for. I yearned for hope. I yearned for the warmth of acceptance. I wanted joy. I was so hungry for love. And peace, I so needed peace. Was that why I was making the long trip?
It’s not like I haven’t made this journey before. Each year there is an invitation to come to the manger to celebrate the birth of Christ. This year is different. The pandemic has worn us out. Politics has turned family and friend against one another. There are tornadoes and other forms of destruction. Violence abounds in our cities and abroad. COVID is taking the lives of people we love. There seems to be no end to the difficult news.
Many of us are frayed to the very center of our being. People are leaving their professions, jobs they love. Doctors and nurses are burned out. Pastors are leaving not only their churches but the ministry they love deeply because they can’t handle the weight of all that is going on with their congregants. Life as we have known it is dying.
With death though there is the promise of resurrection. That is why I continued to walk step by step closer to the stable. I wanted to know and see for myself. I wanted to kneel at the manger. Something would not let me quit. Something was pulling me forward.
When I arrived this year at the stable, there were all things predictable, ox and donkey, and the smell of hay. As I opened the door to step in the light was dim. There was the sound of voices whispering near the back. A lantern shed a warm, gentle light. It was inviting, beckoning me to come, to draw near.
I stumbled as I got closer, but a kind man caught me before I fell. There was a sound of a baby restless in its bed, a manger of all things. As his arms stretched and his eyes opened for a brief moment, I was brought to my knees. Had I found what I was looking for?
I gazed at the baby’s mother in wonder. Do you see it? Do you feel it? She nodded. What kind of love is this that I feel? A love that knows no bounds. A love that draws you closer.
A love that fills you with hope. A love that brings some sort of eternal peace. I am one. I am whole in the presence of this baby.
The weariness is softened. The confusion of life events is set aside at least for the moment. I ask the mother if I might stay awhile. She smiles and nods. I settle into the straw beside the manger and soak in the glory of God’s only child. I soak in the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us and know that all will be well.
Rev. Deb Patterson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Delaware.