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 nothing short of 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-uncommon 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.
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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!