The Unspoken Significance of the Manger

Christmastime is Here.

You may be familiar with that song since it’s from one of the most beloved Peanuts specials, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It has a very special significance to me just because of the song’s musical structure, as written by jazz great Vince Guaraldi.  When the children’s choir sings the word “here,” the chord is an Eb9#11.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with jazz harmonies, if you play the notes of the chord one at a time, the five notes of the Eb9 chord sound very pleasing, but the #11, an A natural (which should be an Ab in the scalar tonality) sounds incorrect, out of place and very jarring.  Put them all together and something is definitely not right.

Interestingly, the two chords that surround it in the song are both Fmaj7 chords – a chord with a very pleasant-sounding tonality.  Some would even say beautiful.  But if you play that independently “wrong” sounding chord in the context of the song, the strange-sounding chord actually becomes something more beautiful and emotionally striking.

Isn’t it interesting that this is what we celebrate today.  When the whole world was at peace, a young, unwed mother gave birth to a son who had to be wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a manger because there was no room for them at the place where travelers – some would say, refugees – spent the night.  It was a barn.  I’m sure it smelled pretty bad.  While there probably wasn’t snow, it could be anywhere from 37 to 47 degrees at night.  And if you’re outside in those kinds of temperatures, you’re definitely not warm and cozy.  Christ our Savior was born in a world that was experiencing political and religious strife as well.  And about that chord that sounds wrong, but is most definitely right, it occurs when the children’s choir sings the word, “here.”  Indeed, He is here!

Now lets look at the two foreshadowing connections that it seems no one ever talks about.  First, when Jesus is born, he’s wrapped in strips of cloth to keep warm.  It’s the same way the dead were buried – wrapped in strips of cloth.  Second, and perhaps even more powerful, is the manger itself.  It’s the feeding trough for the animals (cows, pigs or horses) in the barn.  Hay is usually put in the structure, which provides food for the animals and sustains them.  Thirty-three years after His birth, Jesus gives us His body and blood as food in the Eucharist.  He becomes our food for our journey, and we become His hands and feet to carry out God’s will for us.  Therefore, His presence in the manger can serve as a reminder of the great gift He will give us later in the Church’s calendar, and every day of our lives at this point in history.

May you and yours be filled with the joy of Christmas this day, and every day.  Remember the last line of the chorus of “Christmastime is Here:”  “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.”

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