The twelve days of Christmas are almost over. The tree is looking past its best. The cards are starting to curl and the decorations have lost their initial glamour. In fact it will be good to see the back of all of them and get the house back to normal.
The tree, cards and decorations can all go, but the crib will remain – for awhile. In the Christian Calendar Christmas lasts forty not twelve days and so the crib remains until Candlemas and then it too will be packed away for another year.
But although these outward trappings of the season do all finally get packed away, the image of the baby in the manger must never be packed away but remain imprinted on our hearts and minds.
The Lord of all Creation becomes a helpless baby, heaven is contained in a stable. God has left the kingly throne and sleeps in a feeding trough; the All-powerful One lies weak and vulnerable. This is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and all for our sakes.
There is more mystery and wonder here than a lifetime of meditation and contemplation can even begin to glimpse. But whilst there is a strong and well-developed tradition of reflection upon the crucified one, the image of the manger has not attained such prominence. And yet many of the great Passion-tide hymns express sentiments that would surely not be out-of-place in the stable:
It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be…
My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me, love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
O dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too,
On whose dear arms, so widely flung, the weight of this world’s ransom hung…
Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet, which brought from heaven the news and Prince of peace.
Oft as earth exalting wafts its praise on high, Hell with terror trembles, Heaven is filled with joy
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, temble, tremble…
But perhaps we should not be surprised, both cross and manger speak of the mystery of Divine Love, of grace, of God’s free giving of himself.
So tree, cards and decorations can all go their way but this Baby I will not put away.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul my life my all.