Every year, the manger in my family’s nativity set remains empty until Christmas morning. Throughout Advent, Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels are gathered around an empty manger, waiting. The baby’s absence is a reminder for me that Advent is about preparation. An empty manger means something quite different than a manger that holds the infant Jesus. At Easter, the empty tomb means something quite different than a tomb that holds the crucified Christ. The empty tomb is the sign of resurrection, of defeat over death. The empty manger is the sign of anticipation, of hope in the incarnation.
The story of Christ on earth is bookmarked by two symbols of absence. It starts with the torn relationship between God and man. There is absence in our hearts, a longing for reconciliation. It ends with a ripped veil and our promised reconciliation. We are resurrected with Christ, removed from the fate of death. The emptiness speaks volumes about man’s relationship with God. The emptiness contains hope and victory. The emptiness is full of that which is beyond explanations or words or images.
I look at an empty manger and an empty tomb and know that God is with us.