Journey to the Manger

December 19, 2022
A black and white photo of the top of a newborn's head resting in an adult's palms

In preaching, we are never telling just one story. The gospel is always old, always new. Our testimony makes the connections, as the gospel comes to life in our midst.

My first grandchild was due to be born between December 18 and 22. I went to visit—my son and his wife live about four hours away—hoping that the baby would be born while I was there. We went to The Messiah on December 22, hoping the “Hallelujah” chorus would bring the baby. She didn’t comply.

I had to return home to get ready for our Christmas Eve services and for the Christmas celebration with other members of our family. On Christmas Eve, before the morning service, I got a text saying that the baby would be born very soon. I kept my phone with me throughout the service, checking every few minutes and sharing my anticipation with the congregation. But by the time baby Faye was born around one o’clock, I was at home, making shortbread, trying to be an earth grandmother as well as a minister, trying to hold it all together. By Christmas morning, I was a wreck, exhausted, sad to be missing the first hours after her birth, and—did I say?—exhausted. Into all the complicated relationships and roles, here was a new one: Granny.

In the flurry of trying to get everything done and yearning to see the baby, I had not thought of this preparation as the way to Bethlehem. I recognized a primal drive to GET THERE and to hold the baby. It was hard to be so far away.

I wasn’t thinking about Jesus, or Mary and Joseph, or donkeys and shepherds. I just wanted to get to that baby. My friend reminded me in a text: “Blessings on your journey to the manger.” She helped me realize I was on the same journey as all the others who go to the stable, every year, every Christmas Eve. We are yearning to meet the Christ, at the heart of life, being born into our lives, changing us forever.

We went with haste, on the train.
I thought I would be ready to travel,
but I had no idea of the distance between the old ways
and the new. Life looks the same.

The streets and signs haven’t changed,
but the whole world is different
because of this one child.

I have heard the Christmas story so many times
that straw and donkeys are more familiar to me
than the new ways of bedding infants and apps for feeding.

This is all new, this story.
I am being born, too.
Life in Christ makes a cradle
for the new ways, the good news.

An angel interrupts my flurry
with her reminder to hold the two stories together
as we pass houses, lit up like gold,
as winter smoke rises like incense, and as the train continues
through the night and through the story
to the good news that gathers us:
giving birth and being born, both—
as if for the first time.

Wendy MacLean, Christ United Church, Lyn, Ont.