“Give us, Thy people, so susceptible to size, so easily impressed by worldly rank and scope; give us, O God, an eye for mangers tucked away in stables.” — “Christmas Prayer,” Rev. Dr. Ernest Campbell (1923-2010)
My pastor quoted Dr. Campbell in a recent sermon and the phrase stuck with me: “An eye for mangers tucked away in stables.” In the previous month, my eyes had grown bleary from focusing on worldly rank and scope. It occurred to me that looking for mangers might clear up my vision. It was at least worth a try.
The first manger I noticed appeared in a narrow creek, a natural stream incorporated into the landscaping of a local business park I was visiting. As I watched the water flow over rocks and twigs, I traveled back through time and space to the edge of the Jordan River. I heard Joshua relay God’s message to the Israelites: “Sounds crazy, I know, but you priests are to carry the Ark of the Covenant right on across the Jordan. God will take care of the rest.” I heard Jesus call out to his cousin who was waist deep in the river: “Hey! Me next! I need to be baptized too!” I recalled my own baptism and my children’s. And there it was right there in the water: a manger cradling the enduring truth of God’s steadfast love.
I was at a Christmas concert at a local university when I spied the next hidden manger. You’d think that a manger-spotting would be a regular occurrence in such a setting, but this one was at the back of the auditorium, not up front on the stage. It appeared after the orchestra had played, while we were listening to the university choir accompanied by the college organist. The music filled the space, skillfully delivered and beautifully performed. And then, right in the middle of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” an unhappy toddler let his opinion be known. Have mercy! Seventy-five trained vocalists, outmatched by the high pitched squeals of a single 2-year-old. I was already well into my mental rant about just wanting a nice evening out when I saw it: a radiant hope-filled manger, embracing this very human child. A child, made in the image of God; God, in the flesh of a toddler. Thanks be to God!
Another manger snuck up on me in the chiropractor’s office, of all places. “What a pretty Christmas scarf!” I said to the receptionist. She reached down and fumbled with the fringe on its ends. “Thanks; it was my sister’s. She died from breast cancer a few years ago and I wear her scarfs every chance I get.” (Losing my sister is unfathomable to me, and I said so.) She confessed that despite the passage of time, she missed her sister as much as ever, maybe more. I listened to her describe her beloved sister, telling me how connected they were, how much fun they had together. As she did, the Word became flesh. Right then and there, I saw a manger that held the light of all people. The light was so bright, even the darkness of cancer and death could not overcome it.
Give me an eye for mangers tucked away in stables, God. “For unto us a child is born … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).