Saturday, December 9, 2023

Gather 'round the manger

The other day, our family attended an annual Advent Lessons & Carols; an event which intersperses Bible readings and hymns that prepare us for the coming of Christ. During the “Third Lesson,” from the Book of Isaiah, the following happened in our pew:

Reader: “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

My preschooler, an incredulous look flooding her face, leans over and whispers: “She said Princess Peach!”

Me: “Shhhh…no.”

My preschooler stands up on her seat, indignant as she loudly whispers: “SHE DID! SHE SAID PRINCESS PEACH!”

And thus begins Advent.

We've been gently easing into this new liturgical year, and only just pulled out our nativity sets and Advent materials a couple days ago. My young children excitedly opened boxes, handing plush nativity pieces to the toddler and "fluffing" our small tree. My five-year-old took it upon himself to set up the breakable nativity set on our counter. I walked over to see his work, and I noticed that he had arranged the pieces in the same way that he did last year.  

All of the figures were turned inward, huddled around the empty manger. (My seven-year-old walked over and declared that Joseph needed to be next to Mary, so he switched the places of some figures but kept them in the tight circle) I spend a lot of time working and walking by this nativity set, and it is a visual reminder of how I can live during this Advent. 

When I arrange the figures of a nativity set, I typically space them out so that they look good on display. The figures are turned outward, facing the chaos of the day. However, my son arranged them so the figures are intently gazing on the empty manger. They aren't focused on whatever is going on in the house or the world outside. Instead, they are clustered close together, waiting for the coming of Christ. 

Can we do the same? 

In these Advent days, it is easy to be caught up in the whirl of the world, the expectations of other people, and our own "to do" lists. Our attention is captured by the glimmering sight of what other people are doing, and we feel burdened by the thought that we "should" be doing more for our families and other people, that we "should" manufacture more magic and wonder this December, that we "should" do all the Advent and Christmas devotion and activities that all the "good Catholic families" online are doing. Our heads spin back and forth as we look around, and we forget that we can pause. We can live differently. 

We can assume the posture of the figures that my young child so carefully arranged; we can look to the manger and focus on the coming of Christ. Furthermore, we can bring other people with us, so that we can gather together and prayerfully ponder the gift of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming Flesh, of God coming to dwell among us. 

There's a lot of goodness and fun in many Advent and Christmas activities, but if our prayer life suffers because we're "too busy" preparing for parties and school events and gift exchanges, we need to rest. Stopping all of our activities and work, even momentarily, we need to bring silence into the day and refocus on God. We can gather 'round the manger and prepare to welcome Christ, our King and Lord. 


  1. This was so beautiful to read, AnneMarie! I love that notion of "gathering 'round the manger" and pushing aside all the hustle and bustle. This was a great reminder for me during this Advent season.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Elisabeth! I'm grateful to my little guy for his work-it's been such a good visual reminder for me. I hope you have a peaceful rest of Advent!

  2. Timely reminder, AnneMarie. I have so much to get done in the coming week, but what I really need to do is slow down and take some time near the manger.

    1. Hang in there, Shannon! I hope you are able to have that time and space for quiet and prayer with God.