‘She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snuggly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger.’ (Luke 2:7.)
Most of us are familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus our Saviour and King and the fact that rather than being born into a gleaming rich palace, he chose poverty, to be born in a filthy, cold lowly stable where normally only animals sleep. There was no crib, no comfortable mattress and warm blankets, just a few strips of cloth and some straw in a manger. Being a stable, there was probably nowhere else suitable to hold a new born baby, so Joseph and Mary did the best they could in the circumstances.
But this was no accident that Jesus was laid in a manger. Nothing that involves God happens by accident, there are no coincidences, just God-incidents. And so it was with the manger. A manger is a box or trough which is used to feed livestock, so it contains food and the French verb ‘manger’ means to eat.
Here then, we have the first sign of the Eucharist that was instituted at the Last Supper and which we remember at every celebration of holy Mass.
We recall that shortly after the episode in which Jesus fed the five thousand, he enters into dialogue with his disciples, stating ‘The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6:33). When they ask Jesus to provide them with some of this bread he answers, ‘I am the bread of life’, (John 6:35) and he fulfils this statement on the night he was betrayed when he broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take and eat it, for this is my body’ (Matthew 26:26).
Jesus is laid in a mangerbecause he is the food of eternal life. Not only that, but this food is to be shared with all who want to share in it, from lowly workers such as shepherds, right up to the rulers and kings of the world. The Epiphany therefore is not just a showing of the Messiah to Jew and Gentile alike, but a foretelling that Jesus was to become the bread of life.