I saw something the other day that seemed to be an appropriate metaphor for our holiday season. While waiting for my wife in our local bank’s parking lot, I noticed a manager scene in which the baby Jesus was missing. Mary looked adoringly into an empty manger while Joseph pointed to it. It seemed to be saying, “We have canceled the reason for the season,” almost mocking the story of Mary and Joseph.  

How appropriate the empty manger scene is in contemporary culture.  We no longer have the so-called “Christmas wars,” when we used cry “foul” because Christ had been taken out of Christmas programs. “God with us” has been canceled altogether.  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” (Matt. 1:23).  This is no longer the narrative.  

The good news that the shepherds were so excited to share is no longer being sung in malls and public squares. “”Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Christmas carols are no longer giving witness to the good news. As a result, we have to produce our own version of the good news, which often ends up being, “Let’s try harder next year.”  

We now have to be cautious to whom we dare wish a “Merry Christmas.”  The word “Christmas” is seldom heard in the dominant culture. The message, of course, is that we can go on to have “Happy Holidays” without any awareness that Christmas has its origins in celebrating the birth of God’s only begotten Son as a baby born of the virgin Mary.  

What can an empty manager at Christmas teach us? 

First, be intentional in celebrating the ultimate meaning of Christmas in your daily life.  Enjoy the festive nature of this time of year.  But don’t forget the real meaning. Tell the story as it has been told for over 2,000 years.  Have the courage of young Joseph, who believed the message given him regarding the young woman he would marry.  “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Tell the story especially to the younger generation, before it fades from their memory.

Second, remember you are part of a greater story.  Don’t forget that Jesus came to bring his kingdom presence into our lives.  It’s sad to see how small and self-focused our collective national consciousness has become.  Get out of your small story and celebrate the life you have within the life of the Trinity. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and his Son. We write this to make our joy complete” (I John 1:3-4).   

Third, live out gratitude. It is God’s love for you and me that sent His one and only Son into the world.  God took the initiative so we would take initiative with others. We live among many lonely people who live with a sense of abandonment. They have no clear identity.  Who really cares for them?  God showed his love by becoming one of us: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).