Advent prepares us for the journey to the manger

By Daryl Thuringer, Delegate for Discipleship and Evangelization and Director of Parish and School Services for the Diocese of Sioux Falls

It is that time of year again when the snow begins to fall and Christmas music can be heard everywhere. This has always been an exciting time of year for me. I remember as a child being drawn to the small manger scene our family displayed. It was nothing fancy, just plastic figures with a cardboard stable. But somehow those little figures were much more.

I am still captivated by nativity sets. My wife and I have dozens of them. One was a wedding gift from my siblings, one made from a coconut, one that is about three feet tall, and an assortment made of wood carving, glass, metal and all sorts of others. As I look at all of them I think I have outgrown the Christmas wonder.

Just a couple of the manger scenes Daryl Thuringer has collected over the years. Even the family dog, Rosie, loves the manger (top). Above, Daryl found the coconut manger scene while on a mission trip in Haiti.

Now when I see a manger scene I find that I place myself into the scene and ask, would I have made the journey to the manger? Would I have believed my eyes and ears if an angel told me God came to earth? Would I have actually followed the star? Would I have taken my whole flock of sheep to see what was going on in the stable?

Answering these questions and answering the call is what advent is all about. When I put myself into the manger scene, I can experience many of the same things every day in the world around me. After all, we know God is here with us now; are we making the journey to him?

In the manger scene there are shepherds that were watching their sheep and guarding them from the dangers of the night. They took the whole flock to the manger. Am I helping to protect those around me from danger and helping them find God?

I spend time at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House and encounter men, women and families who need protection from the cold weather and other dangers that come with living on the streets. For me this is a great reminder that God chose to send his Son to Earth in a poor and vulnerable situation and depended on others to help Mary and Joseph find a place where he would be born and stay safe. We are called to help those in our communities who are poor and homeless. It is part of the journey to the manger.

The angels of God announced the birth of the baby Jesus and invited people in the region to come and worship. There are those among us that are working very hard to show us God. Priests, religious and lay men and women preach and teach as catechists, lead bible studies, discipleship and prayers groups. Are we listening and joining them? Are we accepting the call from God to teach or lead? Listening to the proclamation of the Word is part of the journey to the manger.

Kings with their royal entourage made the trip from distant countries by following a star to offer gifts and worship. There are many signs and invitations all around us to worship and grow in our faith. Are we following those invitations placed before us and taking every opportunity God is offering? The kings also offered their gifts to God as praise. Are we bringing all the gifts we have been given to the manger and offering them back to God? We have all been blessed with time, talent and treasure. Offering our gifts to God is part of the journey to the manger.

Mary and Joseph sacrificed to become part of the plan of God. Both Mary and Joseph needed to surrender to the will of God to be the protectors and to raise the Son of God. Are we listening to the will of God and making the sacrifice that is being asked of us? Daily saying yes to God’s will in our lives is part of the journey to the manger.

God is indeed present among us. I know advent is a time when I need to slow down and focus on where I encounter God and how I embrace the call to serve and worship. I hope my Advent can be my daily journey to the manger.