December 24, 2018
Two Babies in a Manger
Amazing as it may seem, in 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics based on biblical principles in Russian public schools, prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. The orphanage cared for about 100 boys and girls left in the care of the Russian government. One of the American educators told this story:
It was near Christmas, so we told the story of Christmas to the orphans. This was the first time in their lives that they had heard the Christmas story. We told them about Mary and Joseph finding no room in the inn, so they went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a hay trough and the wisemen who brought gifts to the Christ child. The children and orphanage staff listened with amazement. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. After the story, we gave the children craft supplies so they could each make a crude manger. Then each child was given 3 small pieces of cardboard, a small square, cut from yellow napkins that I had brought with me because no colored paper was available in the city.
The children tore the paper napkins to make straw and carefully laid the strips in their cardboard mangers. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. The children then cut a baby shape from tan felt we had also brought from the US. The orphans assembled their mangers as I checked if they needed help.
I was curious that 6-year old Misha had put not one, but two babies in his manger.
I called for the translator to ask why he had put two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him, Misha began to repeat the story very seriously. He related the happenings quite accurately--until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger.
Then Misha started to ad-lib:
"When Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma or papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?"
Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always."
As Misha finished his story, his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him— FOR ALWAYS.
Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed love for the world. With the coming of Jesus, it's as though God said: "I've tried to tell you of my profound love, but you haven’t understood. Now, I will show you in ways you can grasp: And the Word was made flesh, full of grace and truth.
Jesus not only told about God who wants us to be whole in mind and body. Jesus touched a leper to restore healthy skin and freedom to be with loved ones and healed many others to renewed life.
Jesus not only said, "I love you," to the hungry crowd, but he fed their hungers with truth and with bread. He didn't just say, "I love you," but picked up a cross, suffered, died, and rose that we might know life eternal.
St. Theresa of Avila explained how our words of faith require living out those words:
Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ's compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."
Haven't you found it true: When you love someone you try hard to find ways to demonstrate that love?
We may not be called to embody love for desperately poor, abandoned, abused or dying people. Yet we are called to embody Christ's love in our own unique ways wherever we can find an opportunity.
We can give Christ arms and legs and voice, so that we can say: The words were made flesh; and the love of Emmanuel, God-with-us, was made tangible in our little corner of the God's world.