The symbol for Christmas ought to be a barn. And I don’t mean the neatly ordered nativity scenes we place as decorations on our mantels or coffee tables; or the finely stylized crèches arranged on church lawns; or the “live nativity scenes” nicely choreographed by congregations and civic groups. Those are nice, but they don’t capture the reality. They only point to it from a distance.
Luke’s gospel tells us that the Christ child was laid in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough. I remember the feeding troughs in my grandfather’s barn in eastern North Carolina. The thick, worn, course, wood slats formed a box of sorts into which silage would be poured for the cattle. Beneath the trough lay straw, dirt, manure, urine soaked earth, and who knows what else, permeating the air with a pungent aroma. Add to that the smell of leather from harnesses, oil and gas for the tractor, and a chemical odor from the bags of fertilizer and pesticide. You’d hear the door creak, chains squeak, the old pack horse, “Red Eye,” would snort, and more often than not the flutter of bat wings high up in the rafters, hidden in shadow. If you went into the barn on an afternoon, sunlight would slice through the spaces between the slats of the barn walls and form parallel beams through clouds of dust motes. Even on a hot summer day, it felt cooler and moist in that space.
A barn performs an essential function on a farm. It’s a shelter, a work space, storage for broken pieces that need repairs, a pantry for feed, a garage, and a latrine for the farm animals. And while colts and calves are often born in a barn, it wouldn’t be the place you’d pick to send a pregnant woman to deliver her infant. But according to Luke’s story, this was precisely the place God picked for the Christ. What was God thinking?
Maybe it’s this. Most people’s lives more resemble the slightly ordered, smelly chaos of a barn than they do the glittering, clean, perfumed order of a Southern Living party room. In my own life, a divorce ruptured my efforts to plan my future and plot my course. I found myself having to reinvent, reimagine, and realign myself, find healing for an injured soul, and nurture for wounds and loneliness I never anticipated. In a way, I found myself standing in the muck of my life, broken pieces here, but some new parts over there. Manure in the straw, for sure, but fertilizer on the shelf, as well. And surprisingly, in the middle of all that, I encountered a rich Presence who reminded me of Luke’s Christmas point: God comes to us in the barns of our lives.
So, this year I’m reminding myself of this. The Christ-child was born out in a barn. A few of the local farmers and some itinerant academics noted the event, but the busy people in the hotels, in the glittering ball rooms and corporate board rooms, in the halls of government and in the conference rooms of the religious institutions had no inkling that God wriggled in the hands of a young girl who had become pregnant out of wedlock.
It could very well be that the gift of this season is more likely to be found in the “barns” of our lives than in the bright party rooms.
Gary, I thank you for your encouragement.
Drexel, What can I say?. . . You have such a gift. Thank you for such moving self-revelation that ends up as encouragement.
And your comment lifts my spirits! I’m mighty grateful!
jwileyt61- or Tad
Just found your blog via Facebook. Now I’ve got it on my blogroll. Looking forward to future posts.
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The manure in the straw….actually is the fertilizer on the shelves!
I thought of that, Roberta, and your point actually strengthens what I wanted to say – at least that’s what I think!
I’ve been thinking about you this Christmas season. You are an inspiration to many and your contributions are still felt in the little village of Mechanicsville.
Thank you, Barbara. That means so much to me.
My father’s receiving the care of hospice right now and it’s the toughest time ever for my dear mother, and me. I’ve been volunteering the past 15 months with the chaplain for the hospice; now I’m one of the family members similar to the ones to whom I was offering myself. Helping the others for a year didn’t prepare me for the hitting-home aspect.
Thanks so much for this and your other blogs ! And do take care like you’ve been doing.
I’m remembering the months that my own father was in hospice care. My heart goes out to you, Lynn.
Very good, so true in many ways, our Lord can always be found in our barn, at times we hide in our barns away from the world
Great insight, Dallas. I had not thought of the fact that many of us, indeed, “hide in our barns,” as you put it. That’s understandable, but eventually we do have to emerge, don’t we?