“And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Toddler Eden Smith gently laid her baby doll, tightly wrapped in a soft cloth, into a wooden manger her father, Aaron Smith, built for her last Saturday morning.
“We thought this was a good opportunity to teach her about Christmas and give her an opportunity to help me with this build and give her a chance to put her baby in the manger,” said Aaron Smith with a satisfied smile after he finished nailing together the simple, triangular box on legs. “My wife swaddled the baby (doll) this morning, and she’s been excited all morning to put her baby in the manger.”
Smith and his 2½-year-old daughter, Eden, were just two of about 30 fathers and other men and about 40 children who participated in The Manger Build at Parkview Baptist Church’s Youth Center.
Dozens of boys and girls of all ages swung hammers and pounded nails — held by brave men — into boards, creating the racket echoing inside the large room.
The Manger Build is a nationwide, pre-Christmas activity designed by Mike Young of the Christian men’s group, Noble Warriors, of Midlothian, Virginia. The intent is to inspire fathers to “lead your family to celebrate Christ’s birth by building a life-size manger and using it to focus your family on the truth of Christmas,” Young said.
More than 2,700 program booklets were distributed earlier this year and at least 95 men’s groups in 26 states held the build last weekend, he said.
“In the last two years, we’ve had 162 build events in 32 states,” Young said. “The program is growing.”
This local build was sponsored by Parkview Baptist and organized by Bax Kegans, a member of Gulf South Men, a nondenominational local Christian men’s group affiliated with Noble Warriors. He also assists with the Parkview Baptist men’s ministry.
“This is a great idea to keep Christ in Christmas,” Kegans said.
The activity also includes a seven-day devotional series for the fathers to lead their families in Bible lessons of the birth of Christ.
“Don’t worry about the imperfect wood because we are imperfect people, which is why Jesus came down to earth,” Kegans told the men as they selected manger pieces from piles of pre-cut lumber.
Earlier in the week, several Parkview Baptist men cut wood for the manger’s ends, legs and sides. Most of the men brought their own hammers while instruction/devotional booklets, nails and safety glasses were provided along with the lumber.
Todd Earnest, who attends Graceworks Church in Prairieville, brought his daughter Sawyer, 7, and 5-year-old son Slade.
“We thought it would be fun to come here and build a manger, right?’ he asked Sawyer, who stopped pounding just long enough to nod her agreement.
“I’m going to hit the nails when Daddy starts them,” she said. “It holds the baby Jesus.”
Woodrow “Woody” Tircuit was helping two young girls whose single mother had to work Saturday morning.
“We’re making a manger for Jesus to be born,” said Autumn Reynolds, 7. “He was our Savior and died on the cross for our sins.”
“The importance of a manger is that Jesus was in a manger when he was a little baby,” added 9-year-old Addison Reynolds.
Jeff Eichholz, who also assists Parkview’s men’s group, was holding some manger boards steady as his son, Jonathan, 10, pounded in the nails.
“He helps me put the nails in the right spot,” Jonathan said. “Most of them are going in straight.”
“This is fantastic,” said Jeff Eichholz, raising his voice to be heard over the cacophony. “We’re keeping Christ in Christmas, and we’ll spend more time with them doing the devotionals to help them to understand what Christ has done for us.”
Kegans and his son Brandt, 12, took longer than most to finish their project, but both smiled for a photo with their finished manger.
“It’s really fun because I get to hang out with my dad,” said Brandt. “And it’s fun to build the manger because it is the real meaning of Christmas.”
“It gave us a lot of time together,” said Bax Kegans. “It was humbling. He told me, ‘Dad, I want us to do this together.’”
Before they left, the families snacked on burgers and hot dogs, filled their mangers with straw from bales stacked by the front door and posed for photos to be posted on various social media sites.
The Rev. Lee Haley, administrative pastor of Parkview Baptist, said the attendance surpassed their expectations, and they plan to host it again next year in the gym to accommodate a larger crowd.
“Activities (like this) that dads and children do together build not only great memories but create a bond for life,” Haley said, adding he’s encouraging other area pastors, schools and civic groups to host The Manger Build to kick off the Christmas season.
Besides reviewing the biblical Christmas story with their families, added the Noble Warriors’ Young, the intent is to show men that Jesus is no longer just a baby in a manger but is actually “the ultimate example of manhood.”
“Building a manger is just the beginning,” Young writes in their brochure. “The real goal of the Manger Build, and, honestly the hardest work, is for men to reject passivity, accept responsibility and lead your family courageously. Remember, there is ‘Manhood in the Manger.’ ”