I was struck by an idea for advent, which a college friend had tried in her locality. It would include attaining a life size manger and placing it in locations around the local community to be seen by passers-by, to inspire a thought or a conversation. A picture of the manger would be taken in each location and posted on social media, including just enough of the surrounding area to help people to find it.
I was instantly taken with the project. Such a striking image to pass by in the neighbourhood, in the “safe” spaces and the broken places too. A symbol of Jesus coming into the locality, into the beauty and the mess. Jesus would come to brighten the dark streets and the forgotten spaces.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
Jesus, the saviour of the world was born to a young poor mother from an insignificant place – looked down on and on the margins. Those in the south would prefer to forget Nazareth existed. Jesus was born in a simple manger amidst the mess and darkness of a stable and societal struggle, but he would become the light of the world. Jesus would be hope in the hope less spaces. He would live out much of his life in the margins of society, spending time with people from diverse backgrounds, particularly those just trying to make ends meet. Jesus met them where they were, including at the dodgy end of the neighbourhood.
The Manger amidst the local community is a symbol of hope, pointing to the coming of our Saviour along with light, hope and justice. The manger says that God loves us so much that he comes to us where we are, even in the unkempt areas. He comes for all of us and certainly the poorest and those struggling the most. God’s grace and rule is present everywhere. We can find God on a simple street amidst the litter.
The manger travelled around Devonport and stories emerged from the journey. On Marlborough St it disappeared. I looked up and down, hoping I simply had not seen it. I spoke to apologetic shop keepers and hairdressers, disappointed it would not continue its community adventure. We asked for help on social media to #findthemissingmanger and the post was shared repeatedly. People cared and soon we received a message from a helpful shop worker – it was back on the street, having had a couple of nights inside another local shop. It was intact and ready to go!
The next destination was the local park. After a day or two I went to pick it up but no matter how much I searched, it was not there. Though something told me not to be despondent too quickly. The manger had already gone missing once and was found. I was sure God was making a way for it. I went in search of someone working on the land and happened to find the park warden who said they had placed it inside to keep it safe and that a youth group were planning to use it. So, again it had been valued, taken care of. The carpenter loved it. They said it was a conversation starter, a moment of excitement to find it. The manger was returned and a suggestion of where to re place it – in full view of everyone taking a walk along the path. We went again the next day and I was told by a passer-by that perhaps we should not move it, that it was being used to place plant pots in. So again, it was being minded and cared for, appreciated.
And onwards it travelled. It was placed outside the community centre and after a few days I went to pick it up, but it was not there. Perhaps it had gone this time, not to be found. But again, we asked for help to #findthemissingmanger and again the post was shared. We received a message – a concerned member of the community had popped it over the fence just in case it was “trashed.” Again, the manger was found. Valued and special.
It became clear to me that although we were aware that the manger could be taken and damaged at any point, it had not been harmed, but tended to. People may have barely known the Christmas story, but even so, just enough. Jesus was born there, and the world was waiting for Christmas day. Jesus was coming and they helped to take care, prepare and be ready. We encountered Kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth, hospitality, generosity, and care.
How can we continue the journey with Jesus among strangers in our community? How can we reflect Jesus’ generosity, hope and authenticity by actively joining in with Jesus, participating through the Holy Spirit with God’s renewal, healing, and flourishing?
Like Mary, it is important we are attentive to our interior life so we can be attentive to our communities and speak into them too. Let us remember Mary’s words of praise and all that God has done for us through Jesus including the marginalised, the cast out and the looked down on. Let us take time this new year to reflect on how we can be salt and light, reflecting God’s glory, generosity, and truth. Do we care? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Luke 10:1-3.