Joyful lessons from a babe found in a manger

"And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

I wonder if this snippet from the Angel of the Lord in the Luke’s Gospel flashed through the mind of a custodian at Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill, New York, when, in mid-November, he heard a cry and, much to his surprise, found a newborn baby wrapped in towels and lying in the Church’s Nativity scene.

The boy was abandoned in the manger of the Nativity by his mother only hours after his birth, and though the mother has since been identified, she will not face charges thanks to the state’s “Safe Haven” law.

“The mother followed the spirit of New York’s ‘Safe Haven’ law, which allows a parent to leave a child not older than 30 days with an appropriate person or in a suitable location where the parent promptly notifies an appropriate person of the child’s location,” said Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney. “It appears that the mother, in this case, 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, and further, she returned the following morning to make certain that the baby had been found.”

Since its discovery, parishioners have rallied around the baby boy, suggesting names — John and Emmanuel — and even asking to adopt him. This community embraced the bundle of new life with love, compassion and excitement. And so a story that began with an abandoned child ended in joy. This is what happens when we choose life. This is what happens when we choose selfless courage over selfish fear.

A story similar in many ways played out 2,000 years ago to a young woman named Mary in Nazareth. Young, confused and fearful, she chose courage and trust in the Lord over fear, and the Lord provided not only for her but for each one of us. And so a story that began with confusion and difficulty ended in the joyful birth of the King of Kings — the Messiah who is Love itself.

As we continue to await the coming of our Savior, we once again find ourselves at Gaudete Sunday, a favorite of mine — and not just because of the pink. The Sunday Scripture readings implore us to “cry out” and “shout” with joy, to “fear not” and to “be not discouraged.” We are told to rejoice always in the Lord, and let go of all anxiety, opting instead to, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

This is how stories that begin in fear end in joy. The young mother in New York discovered that. The young mother crouching over a manger in Bethlehem discovered it, too. And in these stories lies a lesson for each one of us to shed our fears and anxieties and, with courage, turn our lives over to the Lord. Then, as St. Paul concludes, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.