Baby Jesus asleep on the hay in a manger on a cold winter’s night: it’s a rather familiar scene. But if we analyze it in a deeper sense, then we can see the hidden imagery within the circumstances and surroundings of Jesus in the earliest days of his earthly life.
Firstly, and the reason the Holy Family is in the manger on Christmas Eve, there is no room at the local inn for the expectant couple. There is no room for the Savior of mankind. The town of Bethlehem is booked; it’s not exactly welcoming to St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the divine Christ.
In a much broader sense, the world itself is not particularly welcoming to the coming of the Savior. For our Lord is not of this world. His kingdom is not of this earth as he himself would later tell us. Bethlehem, like much of the world in general, was not watchful for the first coming of the Messiah. Nevertheless, he came — in the most humbling manner possible: being born in a stable.
Even this stinky, unfortunate abode had its symbolic significance. For herein where our Lord was born was a place where livestock came to feed. This is where animals came for sustenance. And it became a gathering place for shepherds and (perhaps) their flocks.
This points to the fact that Jesus acts as the Good Shepherd guiding us (his sheep) along the straight path. Jesus Christ has also given himself as spiritual nourishment in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper 33 years later.
Even as Mary wrapped the Christ Child in swaddling clothes, God the Son knew the sorrow his mother would undergo when, years later, she would wrap him a second time. But then it would be in embalming sheets. And instead of laying him in a manger, she would lay him in a sepulcher.
Christ came to us to save us through his passion and death and by triumphing over sin and death through his resurrection. It is these latter truths which give Christmas its genuine, religious significance. I hope you had a great twelve days of Christmas!