As we begin our season of Advent, I was stunned to read the story of a modern day nativity that happened in New York this week. Many of you will have read the same story of the new born baby found in a church nativity scene. A member of the church heard the baby crying and found it wrapped in towels in the manger with its umbilical cord still attached. CCTV footage showed the mother arriving at the church with the baby and leaving without him. The mother has since been traced, though no charges will be brought against her. The District Attorney said, “It appears that the mother felt her newborn child would be found safely in the church and chose to place the baby in the manger because it was the warmest place in the church.” I cannot imagine how the church folk must have felt to find a real baby in their manger scene. Churches all around the world will this week be putting up nativity scenes, many of them true to scale, but inevitably featuring statues or models instead of the ‘real thing’. To find real life in the manger as you walk past must be quite overwhelming.
What surprised me even more reading the story was to discover the law in New York State allows people to leave unwanted babies in churches, hospitals, fire stations and police stations. All of these places can be safe havens for leaving babies anonymously without fear of being charged in law. I realise that those who feel they cannot care for their newborns are in a place emotionally that on-one would wish to be and that lots of support and care needs to be given in such cases. That said, I still found myself struggling to process such a law. The good news from the story is that the baby is doing well and the mother is receiving the help that she needs too without condemnation from anyone.
The story reminded me of two important things for my own Advent preparations. Firstly, to find real life in the manger is actually a reality and is the reason for Christ’s birth. As I re-tell the well-known story of Christ’s coming I cannot lose sight of the fact that this little baby, truly and properly God and truly and properly man, coming to earth changes my life. Through the birth of Christ, God reaches out in grace and love to each of us, and in so doing offers a new life in relationship with Him. Secondly, the story of the baby left behind reminds me that I can easily leave the baby behind too in the busyness of the season. It’s a great time of year with lots to do and I thank you for all the hard work you will do in advance. But let’s not leave the infant Christ behind in our rush to do His work. As the old carol, ‘Silent Night’ reminds us, “Jesus Christ is here!” – may that be in our minds and hearts everyday this Advent season.