The Day I Touched A Manger

by Rev. Dr. Bonnie Canizaro

It was a glowing day in late September when the terrible loss from the tragedy and sorrow of the previous two years began to smother me. I was living in northern Virginia at that time, and I drove that day toward the mountains to morn the loss of my husband, our home, and my future.  I stopped for a long walk in the same park I had visited in the spring of another year when I first felt the loss of everything familiar and beautiful in my life.

It was a beautiful, fresh afternoon when I left my car and began another lonely journey along a simple path.  The breeze was shimmering the tips of the yellow and orange trees, and the brooks were whispering among the rounded stones that winter was near.  (I shivered, for I felt the nearness of winter keenly.)  A few hawks and ravens flew overhead; a chipmunk came out to stare at me before he went off to check his storehouse, and a few summer insects were singing their last song in the bright sun.

I had so wanted a home for myself and my family, and now even the hope of that dream was gone.  As I continued down the pebbled path, the song I often sing on my lonely walks came into my head again:

This world is not my home,

I’m just a passin’ through,

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Oh, Lord, you know

I have no friend like you.

If heaven’s not  my home,

Then, Lord, what will I do?

The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,

And I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I use the songs that come into my head to tell me how I’m feeling.  My therapist had given me an anti-depressant to help me through the final portion of this trauma, but it did not stop my desire to leave all this behind me and go to my rest.  I had worked so hard for so many years, and there was still no rest in sight.

After a short walk I saw a sign for a campground ahead and noticed a shelter off the path, a bit to my right.  I longed for a permanent shelter myself, and I thought, “That looks like a place someone could stay for the night, especially in cold or stormy weather.”  It was open on one side, and as I approached, I could see it was an old stable that had been built by the people who had this farm before it was made into a park.

It was the first time I had seen a real stable, and of course I thought about the precious little family that had once sheltered in a stable in Bethlehem.  And as I thought about them — the mother and the father and the baby — I realized that God had turned this world into a home through them, and I stopped singing that song about leaving it.

I walked up to the stable and saw a beautiful plant I had never seen before.  It had pods in striking colors –somber brown with jet black seeds, opening in curving beauty.  The pods were covered with sharp spikes to render them untouchable, but as I leaned closer to examine this new member of my herbaceous repertoire, I saw the lovely, lavender, tube like flowers on the plant.  “God has made even this truculent weed beautiful,” I thought.  “Just think what God could do with me if I gave him the chance.”

I walked into the stable and saw the manger against the wall, thinking all the time about the precious gift God gave us in a manger.  But when I reached out and touched it, tears came to my eyes.  The weather had worn it smooth in the many seasons it was exposed to sun, wind and rain.  It was as soft as a baby’s hands:  a perfect place for a newborn. 

Thank God that he gave us the child that lay in such a homely place.  Thank God that he used such simple, common things to wrap his most precious gift — so that I could discover the gift again on a lonely walk and come again in touch with his plan for his children.

Thank God he provided Someone who could make us whole again.  Someone who made it possible for a decent person to make a home in this world full of negligent people.  Thank God he provided Someone who could make each of us — regardless of our faults — into someone that decent people could live with.

I caressed the soft, smooth wood of that manger and thought again of the time a manger very like this one had been used as a cradle.  I realized that I could make a home for myself and my children and the new people that would come into our lives because God had made the world into a safe place we could call home.

All we have to do is accept the gift he has provided.  We just need to become a child again, and look to our Father’s provision — the one who started his life on earth in a simple manger like this one.  And suddenly a new song came into my head:

Thank you, God, for saving my soul.

Thank you, God, for making me whole.

Thank you, God, for giving to me

Thy great salvation, so rich and free.