One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Away in A Manger.” As a child, we sang a version in which the chorus divided into two parts and half of us would sing “asleep” and the other half would echo “asleep” in lower tones. Then all together we’d sing, “Asleep the Lord of all.” I loved hearing the volley of voices, and the increase in intensity when we all came together, but I especially loved thinking about that new baby in his straw bed, the animals looking on, his mother tenderly swaddling him.
But being a city girl, I had no clue as to what a manger was and only pictured it as some kind of bed or cradle. No one ever explained to me that a manger is a box that holds feed for animals–that it was a feeding tough. I remember the jolt when the realization hit me that Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, and placed on a feeding trough! The symbolism of that still delights me.
As I learned these facts my childhood imaginings began to become more real. I now picture Joseph carefully cleaning out the feeding trough worrying about his young wife and the responsibility he had to protect her and the child. I see him gathering the best, clean straw to make a soft nesting place for the baby. I picture Mary swaddled the baby and she and Joseph praying over the child. According to the law of Moses it was unlawful for a man to witness child birth, but if no one else was available perhaps Joseph had to serve as midwife and nurse so that he was the one who first placed the baby in the manger.
I wonder if whoever placed him there could have possibly recognized the significance! In the House of Bread they were placing the Bread of Life on a feeding table so you and I could to partake!
I can’t think of that manger cradling the Bread of Life now without being reminded of the weekly feeding tough—the Sacrament table—I visit to partake of the Bread of Life. As I ponder on it, I can hear the words, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). “He that eatheth of this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:58), and I am reminded that the Bethlehem manger offers eternal sustenance to all who “partake of it” (D&C 20:77).