The way to God is found in the manger

Published 7:30 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

Every year when it’s time to decorate our home at Christmas, I sort through the boxes of ornaments for the tree.

One box of decorations holds a collection of angels made of wood and ceramics that we place on our mantle and bookshelves. Tucked away in a box I most look forward to opening is a small wooden stable and set of miniature people and animals.

The manger scene, sometimes called a crèche, re-enacts the Christmas story. I’ve seen crèches that would fit in a shoebox and others, usually outdoors, that are almost life-size. No matter what their size, the figurines of Mary and Joseph and other characters are turned toward the Christ-child lying in the manger.

Ever wonder who came up with the idea for the first crèche? Historians credit St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A.D.) whose first crèche, or Christmas Crib, was a simple manger with a doll in it. Children brought gifts there and older adults their prayers. Later, animals borrowed from neighbors were added to the scene.

Whenever I look at a crèche, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Christmas carols – “Away in a Manger.” The words come from a poem found in a Lutheran Sunday School book published in 1885 in Philadelphia.

The first two verses of “Away in a Manger” appeared anonymously in “Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families.” Verse three was written in the early 1900’s by a Methodist minister named John Thomas McFarland for a church children’s program.

A manger is really the last place you’d expect to find a baby. It’s a feed-box! The manger has been described as a “testament in wood and straw.” It was where the shepherds came to worship the newborn King.

Sometimes, when I sing “Away in a Manger,” I have wondered if there shouldn’t be another verse or at least another title for the song. Maybe it should be called “The Way in a Manger.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life:  no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The only way to God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Several years ago, I decided to try writing a new verse to “Away in A Manger” with the names.

“The way in a manger, The truth and the life, God’s Son dwelt among us, Our Lord Jesus Christ, The light of the world, The King of all kings, Our Savior, Redeemer, and Prince of Peace.” (Copyright2012JanWhite)

A story is told of a missionary traveling to a remote village to train leaders of the local church. A guide was selected to take him to the village because the only way to reach this remote place was to walk through the jungle.

The journey started out without much of a problem; the path was easy to follow. Soon, however, the path literally disappeared as the guide cut a way the jungle undergrowth with his machete.

The missionary grew concerned and asked, “Where is the path?” The guide smiled; looking back he told the missionary, “I am the path.” So it is with Christ – He is our path to God.  When you see a crèche this Christmas season may it remind you of “The Way” in a manger.

— Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”