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Throne of the manger

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The Nativity by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Image: picryl.com/Public Domain
The Nativity by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Image: picryl.com/Public Domain

By Patrick O’Shea

The final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Feast of Christ the King, typically brings to mind all sorts of fearsome imagery of the throne of God. The recent readings of Christ dying on the throne of the Cross may not elicit such dread as meditating on Him as our Judge at the end of time, yet it can be just as confronting. However, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we should “go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16) and coming off the back of Christ the King, this seems like quite the terrifying ordeal. However, we are now into the second week of a new liturgical year and Advent points us towards a very different throne, a throne that is much more approachable than His Judgement Seat or the Cross: His manger.

While not as confronting, nor as fearsome, nor gory, as His other thrones, the manger elicits a sense of awe in us. We marvel and wonder at how the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word Who is from the beginning (John 1:1-14), can be so vulnerable, innocent, and humble in His first post-natal dwelling in the manger. While awe-inspiring, Our Lord’s humility here also instils a sense of fear. Just like those jeering from the foot of the cross, we are reminded that Our Lord is capable of great things (Luke 23:35), yet it is baffling that here He is, as an infant child at the mercy of those around Him.

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In the First Reading, from Isaiah (Is 11:1-10), we read that a flower will spring up out of the root of Jesse and that upon Him will be granted the spirit of the Lord, conferring wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge and fear of the Lord. Many of us will recall from our Confirmation formation that this is a very unsubtle foreshadowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Just like the novenas we pray (at least in my experience), whenever we ask for these gifts of the Holy Spirit, they come to us in unexpected, yet obvious, ways. This particular litany of gifts reminds me of that famous line from the Book of Proverbs, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). While fear of the Lord is often misunderstood, it is always wise to keep our relationship with Our Lord at the centre of our decision-making and fear to lose that bond through sin.

“In order to be great in Heaven, we must humble ourselves as little children and take the lowest place (Luke 14:10). Our Lord, in presenting Himself to us in the manger shows us how to truly become as a child, humble and vulnerable, and to take the lowest place while not losing our God-given dignity.”

It can be easy to forget that these gifts of the Holy Spirit find their human fulfilment in Our Divine Lord, even as early as His birth (nay, His conception). As He lays in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, we often put aside the prophecies of the Old Testament and how “the obedience of the nations shall be His” (Gen 49:10), to focus solely on the figures of our Nativity scenes. We often forget that the same God who will be crucified and be our Judge upon our dying, who is like us in all things but sin, is the same God whom it pleased to dwell humbly in the throne of the manger.

Thankfully, Our Lord knows we are quite forgetful of His infancy’s divinity and, in the Gospels, provides some much-needed imagery for us. In the Gospel of Matthew, Our Lord takes a child to Him and says, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 18:4). Meditating upon this verse from the Gospel is most helpful when we focus too much on the human element of the Christmas scene. In order to be great in Heaven, we must humble ourselves as little children and take the lowest place (Luke 14:10). Our Lord, in presenting Himself to us in the manger shows us how to truly become as a child, humble and vulnerable, and to take the lowest place while not losing our God-given dignity.

Although the thought of God as a humble baby may fill us with paralytic awe at times, it is inspiring to know that He is the greatest gift we will receive at Christmas. We are called by God to approach the throne of grace, and we do well to approach humbly, as He is humble. In this time of Advent, as we approach the throne of the manger, let us, together with the prophet Baruch, say, “stand on high, and behold the joy that comes” (Baruch 5:5; 4:36).

Patrick O’Shea is a young pro-life activist and a staff member of the Archdiocese of Sydney

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