Book Review: The Strangers at the Manger

I hope you each have had a good holiday season and are looking forward to a very happy and hopeful New Year’s. We are still very much enjoying the Christmas season in our house. Nativities are still the center of the kids play and the lights of the Christmas tree are glowing while I type this post. It may seem strange, to post a review for a “Christmas” book after Christmas, but I promise it makes sense.


Strangers at the Manger by Lisa M. Hendey is the 5th installment of the Chime Travelers series. The series is written for elementary students and early chapter readers. Though my kids are not quite there yet, the pace and word structure make these perfect read-aloud books.

In this Chime Travelers story, it’s Christmas Even and twins Katie and Patrick Brady travel back in time to, you guessed it, the birth of Jesus. This is the first time that Katie and Patrick go back in time together which made this story extra exciting for my kids. After sort-of meeting, more like avoiding, a strange new family , the Perez family, that clearly is not from their town and very much in need of help, the twins are pulled back to just before Mary and Joseph enter Bethlehem.

At first I was a bit surprised that the birth of Jesus happens so early in the story. But, as Katie and Patrick learn, there is more to the Christmas story than just Jesus’ birth. And, most importantly, from start to finish it is a story full of opportunities to interact with strangers.

I enjoyed being able to share Katie and Patrick’s change in perspective regarding first impressions and how to be welcoming to new people. Initially, Katie and Patrick are on guard, a little suspicious and definitely not very open to meeting the Perez family. As the story unfolds, they slowly begin to change their attitude. They see how Mary and Joseph welcomed them. They watch as Mary patiently welcomes each shepherd, young and old alike. They are there to watch as Mary and Joseph share Jesus with Simeon and Anna in the Temple. They also witness the faith of Mary and Joseph as the tables turn and they flee to Egypt, now the strangers hoping for a welcoming smile or helpful hand. Hendey crafts a lovely little phrase that Mary tells the twins:

Strangers are simply new friends, waiting to be loved.

Without giving away the whole story, I’m sure you can guess what kind of change of heart the twins felt toward the Perez family.

What I love about this story is how it takes the classic Christmas themes of peace, love, hope and joy and extends them into practical reality. Mary and Joseph extend hospitality, they offer friendship and they gift each person they meet with their love. The twins pick up on this and begin to replicate it when they return home.

I think I would recommend this book as a Christmas season book, not an Advent book, for a few reasons. 1. There are so many Advent books – wonderful Advent books – but so many! 2. Regardless if you are reading this to your younger children or your kids are reading it on their own, it helps to keep the Christmas season alive beyond Christmas day. 3. Especially in today’s world, what better lesson could you kick off the new year with other than Jesus’ desire for love and peace for each person. So, if you are looking for something new this Christmas season (or any season really), or perhaps a new Christmas season tradition, I highly recommend Strangers at the MangerDaily Graces.


December 25, 2016 – Merry Christmas

For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a Son is given…
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace (excerpt from Handel’s Messiah)

Every year in high school (except maybe 1 I think, I blame pregnancy brain for my failing memory) the choir sang Handel’s Messiah. Anyway, these lyrics are some of my top favorite Christmas lyrics and tune. It’s happy, bouncy, almost bell-like and so full of promise.

Jesus’ birth brings forth a new dawn for humanity. He truly is Wonderful, our Counsellor, the Mighty God and the Prince of Peace. The sin of Adam and Eve brought sin, death, anxiety, worry and darkness. One of the curses placed upon Eve specifically is that children are now brought into the world through pain. Through this pain Jesus enters the world.

People approach the holidays, especially Christmas, with a variety of attitudes and memories. For some, Christmas is a time of joy, family, good food and fun memories. For others, perhaps Christmas brings sad memories, painful relationships, and loneliness.

Jesus’ birth is a beautiful juxtaposition of these wide variety of feelings. While the angels are singing “Gloria” and filling the skies with what would be the definition of joyful noise, Mary was experiencing the most explosive pain she had ever felt.

I believe this speaks to God’s love and generosity. God doesn’t swoop in a way that is beyond our comprehension, then give us a bunch of teachings that are challenging to understand and accept, then ultimately save us in a manner that is again, beyond our comprehension. Yes, the Incarnation is most definitely beyond our grasp. However, the pain of childbirth, the joy of seeing your newborn child for the first time, the pride in showing him off to visitors – these are relatable moments. I think this is what is so appealing about Christmas. Even though most of us can’t relate to giving birth in a stable or cave, there isn’t much that could be more fundamentally human than bringing new life into the world.

And now to quote myself (I hope everyone is ok with that), I would like to leave you with the last paragraphs from one of the last prayer experiences….

God continues in His generosity and overabundance. Jesus didn’t simply save the nations from the slavery of sin and death. He also gifted us with His very Body and Blood so that we might continue to be united in communion with Him and one another. He went even further than that. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus promised that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, would come down upon the apostles and remain with them.

God-with-us isn’t just a historical event. Emmanuel isn’t only in the manger.

Jesus, Emmanuel, is the here and now. Even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth today, do not be fooled into thinking that He isn’t born anew each time you invite Him into your heart.

*** Please feel free to share your experience, thoughts and offer support to one another in the comments, on Twitter with the #DailyGraces or on the Facebook pageDaily Graces.

December 24, 2016 – Silence

Words cannot describe how excited my children are for tomorrow. Their eyes are glowing and they are twitching and bouncing all over the house. While we aren’t experiencing many “Silent Nights”, their joyful energy is filling the house with special emphasis on our nativity scene.

Advent Prayer Reflections - Christmas Eve.
Traveling Mary and Joseph – Fontanini Nativity set. CC Kate Taliaferro 2016.

Last year for Christmas Ben gave me a “traveling” Mary and Joseph. Mary is pregnant and sitting on the donkey while Joseph walks beside her. I love the realism. Mary looks exhausted and is barefoot. Joseph also looks weary but still shows the way. They have been traveling to the manger scene since we set up the nativity. We put up the the more traditionally posed Mary and Joseph along with Baby Jesus and the kids know that today Mary and Joseph will finally arrive at the stable. At first, they kept asking “Where are the real Mary and Joseph? The ones who sit by Jesus?” It was interesting to see how even at 5 and 4 years old they already have impressed in their minds the image of the Holy Family peacefully sitting in the stable.

This got me thinking about our past 4 weeks of Advent prayer experiences. We exposed ourselves to a variety of prayer forms, reflections and methods. Prayer is so many things! It is preparation and petition. It is reflection and listening. Prayer has the power to transform and stabilize. Ideally, prayer is our relationship with our God.

Look at Mary and Joseph on their journey. Because of their relationship with God they were open to His divine presence working in their lives. When the angel came to both of them (Mary at the Annunciation and Joseph in his dream) they were given the opportunity to say “yes” to God’s Will for their lives. They continued to say yes each day that followed, all the way to this day, the day before the Day.

We, too, have been preparing our hearts and minds this Advent to welcome the Christ child. We have shouted with John the Baptist, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” and we have quietly offered our own yes to God’s Will. For today, I’d encourage you to spend your 3 minutes in silent union with the Holy Family. Spend your time in silence, finding the tension between peaceful trust and anxious anticipation that Mary and Joseph must have felt on this morning.

It is the last day of travel and unbeknownst to them, the last day of Mary’s pregnancy. They probably shared their breakfast together and I would bet they prayed together. Ahead of the them the road was probably becoming crowded and noisy. They may have been worried about where they would stay that night. Would today be the day their precious baby, God’s son, would be born?

In the midst of all the excitement, noise and celebration today brings, allow yourself a few minutes to be united with Mary and Joseph as they awaited the coming of their Savior, their son.

*** Please feel free to share your experience, thoughts and offer support to one another in the comments, on Twitter with the #DailyGraces or on the Facebook pageDaily Graces.