All around the city were empty creches. Outside and inside the churches, near shops and outdoor markets, the animals gathered in the straw, with Mary and Joseph kneeling, their arms open in anticipation, expectation, wonder, hope and I imagine a bit of fear. In each creche, the manger was empty.
In my home city, churches sometimes display the Nativity Scene, but often we put Jesus in the picture from the moment it is set up. Yet some don’t. I know in the church I last served we held him aside till Christmas Eve. Right now, I’m away in an officially Catholic country. Even though officially Catholic with many churches, it is known as a very secular country and the city is a showcase of material beauty. Yet here, creches abound and they are always with an empty manger.
Day after day, leading up to Christmas as I wandered the city doing family activities and attending events, I noticed the empty mangers with Mary and Joseph waiting. My last Advent Reflection took me to the surrender of Mary, to her openness and willingness to receive what God had for her. That place of empty willingness. The moment of openness, of reception. The moment of being an empty manger.
Emptiness and fullness are two frequent themes for Jesus. He said he came that he might give us full and abundant life, a life overflowing with Living Water and Light. But to receive such Life (a capital letter life) we needed to die, to let go of all that seemed significant, to detach from our parents, our families, even our ‘self’ and all that it clings to, in order that we might live. We must be broken open so new life could grow. We must set aside old wineskins, old ways, to taste the freshness of new wine and find the fullness of a new life.
Every helpful spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, ones who teach me to follow the pathway of Jesus, speak the same tough and true words to me. Let go Anne. Are you willing to let go of the old ways, so new life can emerge within you? Again this year, seeing the empty mangers, I heard the invitation to open emptiness, to willingness. Am I willing to receive the new life of Christ within me? Am I willing to let his Life grow within me? Am I willing to follow where he might lead?