WHAT’S IN YOUR MANGER? : 24 December 2009 (Christmas Eve)
Note: This homily was delivered during the Christmas Midnight Mass in Xavier School last 24 December 2009.
Over 500 years before the very first Christmas, between 620 to 560 BC, there lived in Ancient Greece a famous storyteller. His name was Aesop, and he wrote children’s stories that were called fables. These fables always had a valuable lesson to teach not only children but even adults. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them—like “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The North Wind and the Sun,” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
Anyway, I think one of his lesser-known fables is actually quite relevant on Christmas eve. The fable is called “The Dog in the Manger.” And here is how it goes:
“Once a dog found a cowshed while looking for food. The cows happened to be away for work, so the dog climbed on to a pile of hay in the manger hoping to find something to eat. Being hungry, it began to chew on the hay, but as we know, dogs don’t eat hay, so he hated the taste and decided not to eat. Instead he laid on the manger and fell asleep.
“In the evening the cows returned to their cowshed, tired and hungry from a whole day’s work. But when they approached the manger, they found the dog lying on top of the hay.
“One of the cows politely said to the dog, “Would you please get off our manger? We’re quite hungry and it’s time to eat our dinner.”
“But the dog snarled at them and refused to budge.
“The cows shook their heads. ‘What a selfish dog!’ they mooed in chorus. ‘Dogs don’t eat hay, so why don’t you let us cows enjoy our dinner?’
“But the dog just ignored their pleas and stayed atop the hay, guarding the manger jealously as if it was filled with meat and bones instead of hay.
“At this point, the farmer walked in and saw what was happening.He promptly picked up his rifle and drove the dog away. The wisest of the cows shook its head sadly and uttered the moral lesson of the story.”
Okay, what do you think is the moral lesson of the fable?
A. Never leave your food lying around unattended, as someone else may grab it from you.
B. We should be adventurous and be willing to try out new dishes.
C. We should let other people enjoy the things that we cannot enjoy.
D. None of the Above. AND what does this story have to do with Christmas anyway?!!
If you chose A, B, or especially D, sorry, but your answer is wrong.The correct answer is, of course, C: We should let other people enjoy the things that we cannot ourselves enjoy.” Unlike the dog!Even if the dog couldn’t eat hay, he selfishly kept the cows from enjoying it. So he kind of deserved the beating he got from the farmer!
The term “dog in the manger” has actually become a label for selfish people who would rather that no one enjoys something because he or she cannot enjoy it. The comic strip Peanuts has a story about this: Lucy gets a baseball card of Charlie Brown’s favorite player, and she refuses to give it to him. After he finally walks away from her depressed, Lucy decides she doesn’t really like the card that much and throws it away instead of giving it to Charlie. Lucy is an example of someone who is being a “dog in the manger” because instead of giving away what she doesn’t like so that Charlie Brown can have it, she prefers to discard it.
Now let’s turn to those who answered “D” and are wondering what this fable’s got to do with Christmas.
The Christmas story is about a different kind of manger. When the angels appeared to the shepherds that first Christmas night and announced the good news of the Savior’s birth, the sign they gave the shepherds was “a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” How different this Christmas manger is from Aesop’s manger! And how exactly opposite is the meaning of the child in the manger to the dog in the manger!
Think about it:
The dog in the manger is about being proud even if we don’t have a right to do that the way the dog in the fable didn’t have any right over the hay. The child in the manger, on the other hand, is about being humble. God Who is Infinite Power decides to humble Himself and become a helpless baby in a manger found in some cold and smelly stable.
The dog in the manger is about being selfish and keeping things all to ourselves—even the things we don’t really need or want. The child in the manger is about sharing what we have with others and giving of ourselves. This is what Christmas is all about: God becoming human so that He can share His life and happiness with us. And as we know, He wants to give Himself to us, and in the Eucharist He offers Himself as our food—literally! That’s why the Lord Jesus in the manger is so significant because He wants us to feed on Him as the Bread of Life!
Remember that Aesop’s story was created 500 years before Christ was born. So it’s almost as if God decided to rewrite Aesop’s fable about the dog in the manger with the life story of His Only Son. This Christmas, maybe one way of preparing ourselves for our Lord’s birthday is to ask ourselves this question: “What is in my manger?”
Do I have a watchdog in my manger jealously guarding and watching over what I have and own? In other words, when I examine myself and my life, do I tend to be selfish and proud? Do I tend to be resentful when others are happy? Is life for me a race, a battle, that only I should be able to win?
Or have I put myself in my manger just as the Lord did that very first Christmas? In other words, do I offer myself to others and share all that I have with others instead of keeping others away from what I have? Am I trying to imitate the God of Christmas, who had absolutely no qualms about humbling Himself and sharing Himself and giving himself away for the good of others?
If we have not yet put ourselves in the manger, perhaps we can do just that tonight because I think that’s going to be the best gift that we can ever give to our Lord Jesus on His birthday. After all, it is only when we humbly and selflessly offer ourselves to others, it is only when we put our selves and our lives in the manger and are willing to give ourselves away, will we ever find the Child Jesus Himself there.
May all of us have a blessed Christmas!
2 replies on “WHAT’S IN YOUR MANGER? : 24 December 2009 (Christmas Eve)”
We just came home from a family reunion and the kids had a chamber theatre presentation of the fable part of your homily “What’s in your Manger?” The reflection part was divided up into 8 parts to get all the older kids to participate.. They were the magi, all 8 of them. The adults appeared chastened. No kidding! We’re doing this again tomorrow. I could have shared it with our parish had I found this earlier. Merry Christmas, Father J.
Dear Fr. J, I missed your homily for last Sunday, so I checked those for December of other years and I found this. This is the first time in my 70 years that I learned of Aesop’s Dog in the Manger fable and of putting myself in the manger! What an insightful piece. I will surely share this homily with my grandchildren on Sunday. And print one so my oldest grandkid can read it aloud to everyone at the Christmas family reunion. Thank you, Father. Keep well.