I follow a fun tradition with my kids this time of year in which we build a tiny manger on our kitchen table. I read about the practice years ago, and seeing that it didn’t involve (grrrr) glitter, I swiped the idea.
Our over-sized napkin holder oddly fit the bill for an empty stable crib. Next, all we needed was a handful of hay from our neighbor’s horse trough. After that, it’s “add a straw” each time a kid is generous or forgiving or finishes his homework early.
Day-by-day, straw-by-straw, we prepare a place for Baby Jesus. Sounds overly simple, even silly, but there’s something about seeing that manger fill up that’s got me thinking …
“Why do we wait until January 1 to make our resolutions?”
Sure there’s the tonnage to shed from the gravy-covered carbs that’ve collected around our waistlines. There are the empty wallets prompting renewed devotion to financial gurus. But as Catholics, Advent marks the start of our new Liturgical Year — so doesn’t it make sense to think about change now? Not to mention, I’ve been extra grumpy/stressed out/ moody lately, and if I wait until the New Year to get my emotions under control (by cooperating with God’s grace), there’s definitely going to be “no room in the inn” around here.
What’s more, Advent is traditionally understood as a season of “lesser penance.” Meaning, we don’t have official food fasts prescribed by the Church. Yet similar to Lent, it’s a time of transformation; a time of waiting with hopeful expectation for Baby Jesus to be reborn in our hearts. And with each straw my sons place in our “manger,” I’m reminded that this transformation involves work; it’s not simply about lighting candles around a wreath or listening to Christmas music, but (for me anyway) it’s struggling to change a habit.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and Holocaust martyr, once wrote from his prison cell:
The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.
Yup — “troubled in soul; poor and imperfect” — I can relate.
And as I put myself in “time out” for yelling at my sweet 5-year-old, I’m begging – begging – Baby Jesus to help me smile more. I’m praying for more tenderness in my thoughts, words, and actions (especially with my kids who are stuck inside on this cold, rainy day). I’m praying, with each straw I’ll put in our napkin holder manger that “I may decrease so that he may increase.” (John 3:30)
Baby Jesus, I need your help, and I can’t wait until New Year’s Day.
The profound symbolism of violet and rose in Advent
Find more Advent ideas, tips, and reflections here.