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away in a manger...

Manger seems to be one of those words like hark, magi and swaddling clothes that almost exclusively calls to mind Christmas. Today crib can be used synonymously to describe a manger for feeding animals and it was sometime during the 12th century when it came into popular use. Perhaps an evolution of Old English crib which is similar to Old High German krippa for manger, and possibly related to Greek griphos which describes a reed basket.

Even with the fact that it is a rather archaic word that those in the farming industry no longer use, nearly everyone probably has a general idea of what a manger is. The English word manger, like the Greek expression it translates in Luke 2:7, describes a feeding trough--a wooden, rough-hewn container of animal feed. Christmas cards regularly show a manger as something much nicer than it really is, picturing it more like a bassinette, a structure filled with straw that a baby might sleep in quite contentedly. Some artists have romanticized the rough images that are associated with the birth of Jesus. In reality, there is nothing quixotic about a manger. It was hardly any kind of soft or sanitary crib. Still the English word crib first referred to a feeding trough for cattle, and not a bed for babies and small children.

no crib for his bed

To many Christians the fact that Jesus had a feed trough found in a stable for his bed is of great spiritual significance. Composed of clay mixed with straw or from stones held together with mud; occasionally they were carved in natural outcroppings of rock. The place of Jesus' birth draws attention to the shocking message of the manifestation: "that because God so loved his lost creation, he was willing to humiliate himself by having his Son assume the flesh and blood of a human being. " Christmas is actually about the humble, self-sacrificing love of God who came down to earth so believers could be lifted up to heaven. God's love is so wild and tenacious that it is a love worth receiving and responding to with deep delight and exhilarating joy.

the cattle are lowing,

The word manger first appears in Middle English sometime during the 14th Century as mangeour, and or manger. It is from Middle French that maingeure is derived from mangier meaning " to eat." This is from the original Latin word manducare implying "to chew or devour" and is related to manducus for glutton and mandere to chew. Today it's described as a "trough or open box in a stable designed to hold feed or fodder for livestock." Mangers from ancient times were most likely made of stone according to many Biblical scholars. In the gospel Luke the author relates that Mary "brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." 1

Luke goes on with the story about how an angel appeared to shepherds in the field and said:

    "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." The shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem "with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger"
    - Luke 2:10-12,16.

the baby awakes,

Today's traditional nativity scene usually shows the wise men at the manger. However, they did not find Christ at the manger, but most Biblical historains agree it was at his house when he was a young toddler. 2 Here is one theologian's account of some of the historical sites surrounding Jerusalem and the nearby town of Bethlehem:

    The knowledge of the place of the Nativity ("noel" or state of being born and its place) was handed down by word of mouth to succeeding generations. As far as we know, no church or shrine was built over the traditional "manger" until Constantine built the Church of the Nativity in the first part of the Fourth Century A.D. But how was Constantine to know the actual spot where Jesus was born? Accurate records outside of oral tradition could not be found -- but a way was found. Here is a fascinating story.

    After the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 75-138) rebuilt Jerusalem and changed its name to Aelia Capitolina, he systematically destroyed the places Christians had set aside as places of biblical history. Over what Hadrian believed to be Golgotha, he built a temple to Venus. Over the stable in Bethlehem he built a temple to Adonis (the handsome Greek youth of mythology who fell in love with the goddess Aphrodite). What he did was to mark the places of the birth and death of Christ that had been known by churches and oral tradition. With the places thus marked, Constantine tore down the pagan buildings and replaced them with churches.

    Visitors to the Church of the Nativity are surprised on arriving at the front of the ancient church to find a small, low entrance. But the history of the Basilica (a Roman long hall with pillars) helps to explain this low door that has sign over it saying, "Don't Bump Your Head." The small door was made in Turkish times to prevent horsemen from riding into the church. The Moslems rode right into the building on horses and donkeys in order to disturb the worshipers. The "Christian" emperor Justinian rebuilt the church (531 A.D.). One cannot but admire the monolithic dull red columns (red Bethlehem stone) when you enter the church. On the walls there remain mosaics from the Tenth Century A.D. One can still see part of a roof that was placed there in the Fifteenth Century by King Edward IV of England (decades before Columbus lifted his anchors for the new word). The English oak beams and several tons of lead were sent from England by sea. Some of the roof was melted down by the Turks and turned into bullets for use in their wars against the Venetians. There are still a few tiles on the floor that make up a mosaic. These come from the 325 A.D. date when Constantine built the Church of the Nativity.

A nativity relates to "the process or circumstances of being born." The custom of recreating the Holy Night began on Christmas Eve in 1224 by Saint Francis of Assisi. He is supposed to have set up a stable in a corner of a church in his native village with real persons and animals to represent those of the first Christmas. Soon manger scenes began to spread across Southern Europe and were sometimes called by its French name, crèche. Today several generations of artisans from all cultures create rich and wonderful nativities to show off and sell in the markets of Bethlehem. These are small models of the stable where Jesus was born, containing figures of Mary, Joseph, the Infant, shepherds, farm animals, and the three wise men and their gifts.

the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,

Sometimes it is ignorance that leads to profanation and many times people ridicule what they do not properly understand. At times it does seem like Corporate America is looting the Infant out of Christmas. To defray the intrusive and overwhelming secular aspect and because the goal is to focus on the reason Christmas is celebrated in our home the baby Jesus is not placed in his manger until Christmas Eve. There is one that sits outside the front door and several children have knocked on the door to tell of the outrageous misfortune that baby Jesus has been stolen! We explain that Mary, Joseph and all the rest are waiting because the baby Jesus hasn't been born yet. With their parents' permission, children who would like to participate used to come over on Christmas Eve to decorate small cakes, prayers were shared and all encouraged to sing happy birthday as we gathered around the nativity to place the Christ child in the manger. Since it was shepherds who first saw the babe in the manger, it is not until after Christmas Day that the wise men figurines arrive on the scene and are moved a bit closer during Christmastide until they arrive at the scene on Epiphany.

Endnote: The original author of Away in a Manger is unknown, however, the music was originally composed and published by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1885.

Researched and prepared especially for the The Ninjagirls Christmas Special.


Annie's Epiphany Page:

Away in a manger:
www.padfield.com/ 1999/manger.html

Christmas: www.mpcrc.org/newsletters/winter2002.pdf

The Holy Bible.

Merriam-Webster OnLine:

Sola Gratia: O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Man"ger (?), n. [F. mangeoire, fr. manger to eat, fr. L. manducare, fr. mandere to chew. Cf. Mandible, Manducate.]


A trough or open box in which fodder is placed for horses or cattle to eat.

2. Naut.

The fore part of the deck, having a bulkhead athwart ships high enough to prevent water which enters the hawse holes from running over it.


© Webster 1913.

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