Finding hope in a tiny baby and a stone trough
Assembly National Consultant Rev Dr Sunny Chen offers the first of four Advent reflections
November 27, 2023
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.” Luke 2:7
The impression of a baby wrapped in a cloth lying on top of hay in a wooden manger is so prevalent that this image can be found on Christmas cards around the world. However, people in the first century who lived in the land of Palestine would have a very different perception of the nativity story.
"Back in those days, most mangers were stone troughs made to hold water or food for animals"
Back in those days, most mangers were stone troughs made to hold water or food for animals (see photo below). It was not uncommon to have inns built in front of or nearby a cave: the building to accommodate travellers and the cave to shelter the cattle with which they travelled.
With the historical and cultural lens, this imagery resembles that of the burial of Jesus. In that era, a deceased person was not buried underground. Instead, the body would be wrapped and then placed inside either a horizontal hole chiseled out of a big rock or a tomb cave. The birth and the death of our Lord are vividly portrayed in two similar images.
The image of a tiny baby, the Light of the world, being placed in a stone-cold trough inside a dark cave reminds us of the message of hope. Like a dark cave, our world is filled with darkness, chaos, and uncertainty. However, Christ is present with us in our darkness. Most importantly, all these troubles shall pass, as Christ is bringing forth his kingdom: the hope in which we anchor ourselves always.
The powerful words of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr about obstacles and challenges, which were uttered approximately two months before his assassination, still resonate with us today: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
God of infinite hope,
may we never lose hope in our darkest hours.
And as a light shining in a dark cave,
may we also be a light,
bringing hope and comfort to those who are in despair.
In the name of the One who was born as the Light of the world,