The angels have appeared to the shepherds proclaiming news of great joy. The time of preparation is over; to us a child has been born. But can you prepare for the birth of a child? It would be foolish not to prepare, and yet equally foolish to think that any preparation is adequate for such a gift.
George Herbert in his poem ‘Christmas’ asks the child Jesus to ‘furnish and deck’ his soul. And so it is with the birth of a child. If we are to love a child we must allow ourselves to be drawn into the child’s world as the child grows into our world. Nothing prepares us for this.
Mary and Joseph have allowed themselves to be drawn into the world of their son. Before his birth their worlds have been turned upside down, and they come to inhabit a new place, a place prepared for them from eternity, a place to which they are brought by their son. He comes to live with them, to share their home, to grow up in their world, so that they may grow in him.
There is no place for them at the inn; this child who will share their home will find no place to rest his head. And they will share his homelessness.
No place for this child in this world, for he is the place where heaven and earth meet. Around the child lying in the manger the whole of creation meets its Lord and saviour. Angels sing, shepherds adore, wise men bring gifts and animals bend low in homage. They come to Christ the Lord, the Word of God, through whom all is created and to whom all things are drawn. Outside him there is no place.
Herbert continues his poem by likening his soul to a shepherd:
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds| Of thoughts and words and deeds:| The pasture is Thy Word; the streams Thy grace,| Enriching all the place.
This child lying in the manger is God’s Word; food and drink for our souls. The manger is the place where animals come to eat, and so the Wisdom of God is now presented as fodder for animals: pasture for sheep.
He draws us into his world by feeding us, just as the food provided by his parents will allow him to grow in our world. A child with no place to lay his head, for we are not ready to welcome him, to give him shelter and rest. For our own familiar places of comfort and rest cannot contain him, and these will become of our imprisonment if we do not allow ourselves to be drawn, and come to rest bowed down in homage. For,‘Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,’ in the presence of the angels, and our souls will be eternally prepared to meet their saviour ever new.