Christmas is often seen as a magical time: a time for dreams and wishes, a time of peace and joy, when everyone tries to be a little nicer to each other.
It’s also seen as a time for buying things: more gifts, more decorations, more food—even more bins and bags and boxes to store the things we have bought! And yet despite all that Christmas has come to mean in the world, it has been unable to shake off completely the real reason for the celebration. Christmas is about God sending his one and only Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save us all (John 3:16-17). The birth of Jesus is the most magnificent gift ever given—period. It will never cease to move people closer to the Lord.
One of the most famous Christmas carols that we sing asks, “What child is this?” Then it answers the question by saying, “This, this is Christ the King . . . the babe, the son of Mary.” The words in this song present us with a beautiful way to see who is lying in the manger.
So as we begin this season of Advent, we want to take a look at who this baby in the manger is. Why is this question so important? Because Jesus wants us to put our faith in him. He wants us to trust him. He wants us to follow him. And the clearer we are about who he is, the more passionate and dedicated we will be about following him.
Who Is in the Manger? Scripture tells us that Jesus was no ordinary baby. The same baby who put his hand around Mary’s finger, tugged at her hair, and brushed her cheek is the One who holds the entire earth in the palm of his hand. He built the mountains, hollowed out the sea, and established the dry land (Psalm 95:4-5). “In him were created all things” (Colossians 1:16). “Without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). Each one of us is his “handiwork” (Ephesians 2:10).
This baby is the “heir of all things” and the “very imprint” of God’s being. He “sustains all things” simply by the power of his word. And having cleansed us of our sins, he “took his seat at the right hand” of God (Hebrews 1:2, 3).
This baby, who made the same gurgling and cooing sounds that any infant makes, is the same One whose voice spoke timeless words about a loving and merciful Father in heaven. This baby, crying in the manger, ended his life by crying out on a cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This baby who looked lovingly at his mother looked with love on everyone he met: disciples who were slow to understand him, public sinners whom everyone else derided, blind beggars whom nobody cared about, and religious and political leaders out to destroy him.
The Apostles’ Witness. All these statements from Scripture are powerful testaments to the question “What child is this?” But the Bible is one among many witnesses. Another is history itself. Think about the apostles. These men knew Jesus. They followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They lived with him. They saw his miracles and heard his teaching. They saw how he changed people’s lives. They had firsthand experiences of his compassion and his love. They all had some sense of the temptations he endured without his ever committing a single sin.
What’s more, these apostles gave up their lives for Jesus. They were practical tradesmen, political activists, and government employees. They were not the type of people who would sacrifice their lives for the sake of a myth or a fraud. But there they were, traveling all over the world, pouring themselves out so that they could tell as many people as possible about Jesus and his salvation.
And what did they receive in return for their dedication? Hardship and persecution. Ongoing disputes with the leaders of their religion. Imprisonment. And for most of them, martyrdom. Logically speaking, no one would willingly choose this kind of life unless they were convinced that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. No one would heroically give everything for the sake of Jesus and his message unless something—or Someone—proved it to them.
Miracles. Another telling witness about who this child is comes in the form of the miracles that have occurred in every generation since Jesus was born in Bethlehem. First, there are the countless healings and exorcisms that the apostles performed in the name of Jesus—wonders that continue even to this day. Here we have only to think about the amazing miracles performed by St. André Bessette in Montreal, Canada, and powerful conversions like St. Edith Stein’s.
The various apparitions of the Virgin Mary—all investigated closely and verified by the Church—also point us to Jesus and God’s magnificent plan. There’s Fatima, where Mary appeared to three children and gave them three “secrets” about the future. During one of these apparitions, in fact, seventy thousand pilgrims witnessed the sun dancing for joy. There’s also Guadalupe, where Mary appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego and told him to build a church in her honor. As proof of her visitation, she provided the “miracle of the flowers” in which her image was imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma. And there’s Lourdes, where Mary appeared to a young girl named Bernadette and revealed herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”
Finally, there are other miracles like the incorruptibility of some of the saints and supernatural events like bleeding Eucharistic hosts and statues that appear to weep. Because events like these have no natural explanation, many have pointed to them as stepping-stones along their path to a living faith in the Lord. They help people realize that there must be “something out there,” something that moves them to start praying, reading, and asking questions.
Lord, Open My Eyes! The word of God leads us to believe in Jesus, the living Word of God. The lives of the apostles and the saints can move us to embrace Jesus. And the countless miracles can move us to seek God’s intervention. All these wonders are meant to feed and strengthen our faith. They can all help us open the eyes of our hearts so that we can see who the child in the manger really is.
Scripture tells us that all the people who encountered the baby Jesus were inspired by what they saw. The shepherds, the Magi, the prophetess Anna, and the devout Simeon—they all had their eyes opened to see Jesus in a new way. And that vision changed their hearts.
Perhaps Simeon’s experience best expresses what the baby in the manger wants to do in us (Luke 2:25-30). Scripture says that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon—just as the Holy Spirit is upon us. It says that as soon as Simeon saw the baby, he was filled with joy. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” he proclaimed (Luke 2:30).
The Holy Spirit wants to open our eyes. The Spirit wants to show us who is lying in the manger. He wants us to see Jesus as “Emmanuel,” God with us (Matthew 1:23). He wants to give us the grace to put our whole hope in Jesus.
So as we begin this season of Advent, let’s all ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes. Let’s ask him to show us Jesus in a new way. And together, let’s pray. “Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who came to us as a baby in a manger. I believe that you came so that you could save us from sin and death. And I believe that you will come again to bring us into your heavenly home. Come, Lord Jesus, and be born anew in my heart today!”