This past week, I stopped to pray in front of our Nativity scene out in the commons area — and as you all probably know, it’s a tradition to leave the manger empty… to not put baby Jesus in there… until it’s officially Christmas.
Joseph and Mary were there. The donkey was there. The cow was there. The shepherds and their sheep were all gathered ‘round. But the manger was conspicuously empty, because… well… we were still waiting for Jesus to finally arrive.
But this year, the manger felt more empty than usual.
Our parish has been through a lot the past few weeks of Advent.
We’re still processing the loss of our pastor.
There’s an emptiness — a void in our hearts right now. Something is missing. More specifically: Someone is missing.
That absence… that emptiness is real.
It’s part of the human experience isn’t it? …This experience of emptiness.
Now I have no idea what most of you are going through right now. But I bet in your own lives — in your own way — the manger has felt very empty at times. Christmas — as joyful as it is — can also be an especially difficult time of year for a lot of us. We so easily begin to focus on what or who we “don’t have.” The material stuff we don’t have. The job we don’t have. The romance we don’t have. The warm fuzzy feelings we don’t have… We can so easily focus on “What” or “Who” is missing.
And that emptiness is real.
But into that emptiness — into that absence — we receive this incredible word of Good News — this piercingly bright beam of hope:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone — For a child is born to us, a son is given us.”
This is the amazing Christmas miracle!!!!
Jesus fills the emptiness!
He fills OUR emptiness!
He fills the manger of our hearts!
Nothing else will. Nobody else will. Our hearts are huge. They are vast. And when we don’t have the LORD — O the EMPTINESS! But Jesus is the infinite God of the Universe, and He can fill us. He is ENOUGH… always enough. More than enough!
He so eagerly wants to fill us…
He said it Himself: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!”
Abundance! — Not scarcity. Not emptiness. Not void.
“In Him” — in this tiny, drooling, adorable little baby, born for us today on Christmas and laid peacefully in a manger — “In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell!”
In this tiny little baby boy — wrapped up so tightly in swaddling cloths — he’s a little BABY BURRITO! — that little nugget can fill every single need, every desire, every hope of the human imagination, mind, heart and soul.
“And they name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace!!!!”
Our Savior has arrived!
Emptiness doesn’t have the final word.
Hope is kindled!
The manger is full!
But what is the manger full for?
What’s the purpose of a full manger?
It’s a well known fact that a manger is a place where animals come and eat. It’s where they fill their bellies!
Which brings me to my next and final point:
Jesus fills our emptiness — but not in an abstract, conceptual way. He also doesn’t fill our emptiness with vague, sentimental, platitudes, like a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Jesus literally fills our emptiness physically and tangibly… with Himself.
His Real Presence in the Eucharist — the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Host and the Chalice — this sacred and holy meal that we can see and taste for ourselves is meant to fill us to the brim and unite us forever with Jesus and one another!
Jesus filled the manger in the little town of Bethlehem — a name that literally means “House of Bread.”
The Eucharist was always the plan! It’s the Source and Summit of our faith! Jesus came to fill us with the Bread of Life!
Look at the Tabernacle! It is filled with Jesus — See the Monstrance! It is filled with Jesus — In just a couple minutes, WE too will be filled with Jesus — God-made-man… now-made-Food for the life of the World!
I remember one time when I was a seminarian, I was serving a Christmas Eve mass. And at the end of the liturgy, when I was returning the Blessed Sacrament to the Tabernacle, I remember hearing faintly from within the church the Christmas song: “Away in a manger, No crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus, Laid down His sweet head…”
And in that moment, it dawned on me all of a sudden —
That as I held that bowl, that golden ciborium containing the Most Holy Eucharist, I was looking at the manger. I was at Bethlehem! This was the same Jesus who once filled the manger on that first Christmas night!
I encourage you:
Think about that as you come forward for Holy Communion tonight — Each of those little bowls is a manger, filled with Jesus.
These mangers are filled for you and for me!
They are filled for all of the world. There’s more than enough Jesus in the manger for every single hungry soul. Our job is to prepare ourselves for that meal — to be well-disposed — to be baptized, to hold fast to the Catholic Faith, to confess our sins and do our best every single day to turn away from evil and follow the Lord. And then, as we receive from that manger of the Holy Eucharist — we become truly full.
So bring your emptiness here to this altar. Bring all the void and the absence. The pain and the loss. Bring your disappointments.
Open up and invite Jesus to fill you to overflowing.
Become a Manger, where Jesus can lay down his sweet head and rest!!!!
Let all who are empty, hungry, and weary of this world’s tasteless food come to the Manger — and FINALLY be made full.
I was telling others about your Christmas homily, and thrilled to be able to read it again!
Bless you, Father!