Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-common Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Making the Manger Personal – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

Merry Messy Christmas

One of the first things I did after closing on my home last year was buy a Christmas tree. Yes, a Christmas tree. To clarify, I closed two days before the new year, and there was a 70% final clearance sale.

That 7.5-foot tree had been sitting in my garage for 11 long months. You can only imagine how excited I was to finally unbox it and put up the beauty.

And for one glorious moment, it was perfect.

Proud moment … It didn’t last long.

But only for one moment. My eight-month old kitten Ness thought I’d just transplanted a tree in the living room for his enjoyment.

Having lived with a cat before, I knew better than to decorate the lower branches. But I had no idea my kitten would scale the branches like Tarzan. Before long, my tree looked like it belonged in a Home Alone movie.

Worse, Ness tried eating the tree. Let’s just say it didn’t digest well. And then there was the episode where he tangled himself in the lights so that the tree twisted the way someone might on a dance floor. Panic moment.

So for my kitten’s own safety and my personal sanity, the tree came down … eight days later.

Ness thought he was invisible.
No ornament should be that big.

Messy Christmas

I wish I could tell you I had some deeply spiritual moment through this “Ness-capade” as I’m calling it, but I didn’t. Instead, I became frustrated. After all, why couldn’t I have a normal pet that left my Christmas tree alone?

Then, as I packed up the tree, the thought hit me: The first Christmas wasn’t perfect. Why should I expect mine to be?

Think of Mary. I’m sure she would have loved to birth her baby in the comfort of her own home. Instead, she endured the discomforts of travel while approaching full term and the indecency of a public delivery.

Luke 2 records that she laid her first-born in a manger or feeding trough.  Most Christmas plays depict the birth of Christ taking place in a stall, because animals were present. Other sources suggest the location was perhaps a cave or a crowded lower room where the family brought in animals for the night.

Regardless, it wasn’t a tidy place like the little figurines we display on our bookshelves. It was smelly and dirty. But God chose that unlikely location for His Son to be born.

Right. I should stop complaining about a lost-cause Christmas tree.

A Simplified Perspective

My word for 2017 was Simplify. Appropriately, I repackaged that 7.5-foot tree, returned it to the garage, and unpacked the small tree I’ve decorated since my childhood. (It’s amazing the thing is still in one piece.)

It’s simple, but maybe it will stay standing.

I placed it (hopefully) out of Ness’ reach and am attempting to appease him with a dollar store decoy he can destroy to his heart’s content.

This is what pacifism looks like.

In all seriousness, though, we tend to clutter Christmas with so many parties, programs, and obligations that we wear ourselves out. Author and blogger Laura Thomas wrote she’s Dreaming of a White (Space) Christmas, and I think her approach is brilliant. (Thanks, Laura, for sharing this post!)

Yes, enjoy the festivities, but make white space in your calendar to be still and give thanks for that first messy Christmas when God came in the flesh to this world with one purpose alone: to live so He could die and atone for our sins.

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)

Blessings to you this Christmas season,

~ Kristen

This is my last blog post before Christmas. I’ll look forward to seeing you back here soon! 

 

Tweetables

Merry Messy Christmas – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

The first Christmas wasn’t perfect. Why should we expect ours to be? – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)