Luke 2:6-7 (NLT)
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
As a boy, I grew up on a small farm in east-central Indiana, where we had an old barn that was truly the center of our world.
It was big and red with a silver metal roof. One hayloft was filled to the rafters with bales of hay that provided a background aroma of warmth and comfort; a constant reminder of summer. The main floor, where we parked our pickup truck, also doubled as a basketball court, with a wooden backboard and old metal hoop mounted on the back wall. A Tack Room was located off the main floor on the east side of the barn. It was here that we kept our halters, bridles, saddles and blankets. Pitchforks, axes, hammers and sundry tools hung from nails along the north-eastern wall. Unmoved for decades in one side section of the barn, my dad’s old Buick was parked, collecting dust and serving as a reminder of fond memories and good intentions.
But in every other stall and space of this wonderful building held animals. Two horses and a pony stirred constantly in their stalls, munching on hay, shaking their manes, and stomping their hooves in the soft duff; a mixture of dry straw and sweet manure. Two cows in the back stalls stood chewing their cud with loud grinding of teeth, their tails swishing constantly to ward off the flies. A couple dozen chickens pecked and scratched in their straw-covered floor, looking for bugs and grubs that didn’t exist. Their cackling and crowing never ceased.
In hutches hung from the back wall of one stall, lived 23 rabbits; 24, 25, 26, 27…let’s just say a colony of rabbits and a hard count was never possible. Ducks and geese clucking wandered in and out. One sheep bleated in a back corner and one pig snorted around his pen. Dogs barked, scratched and sniffed around. Dozens of cats meowed, stretched and searched for the dozens of rats who lived under the barn and only came out at night. Pigeons, sparrows and starlings found their way into the rafters at sunset, looking for a safe place to sleep.
We really had quite the menagerie and as evening approached and the fading light of day cast long shadows across the barnyard floor, the symphony of sound made by every creature in this garner would lower to a soft murmur, but it was never truly quiet. A barn is a living breathing being. It contains life of every size, shape and color. It is never silent. Even when the animals are still, the barn itself creaks and moans. Wind whispers through the cracks and over the boards. And always there are mysterious scurrying and rustling sounds from dark corners.
So, add to this picture one teenage girl in labor, after four, five, six hours of heavy pushing, with no sedatives and no epidural. There is no way that it was a Silent Night. There is no possibility that it was the bucolic picture painted by 1818 hymn or even by Luke in this passage. There was sweat. There was blood. There was amniotic fluid. There was mooing and whinnying and barking and braying and oinking and baaing. There was great pain and there were many tears.
And it is into this setting in which our Lord Savior, Jesus was born. It’s real world, not the ideal world. It’s chaotic and confusing and anything but silent. It’s messy, just like our lives. It turns our understanding of the Christmas story on its head. It changes the way we view God’s plans: A Royal Birth, to an unwed girl separated from family, and a confused man along for the ride, in a little village in the middle of nowhere far from the comfort of home, on a straw-covered floor, in an animal-filled barn.
It is God, at his finest, taking the expected and making it anything but.
I love this about God. Rather than an ideal, Hallmark moment, the birth of Jesus is more like our lives. Our lives are chaotic, not picture-perfect. We experience family squabbles and hurtful words. We exist in a world of social unrest and political turmoil. Our bank accounts don’t balance. Our relationships are strained. Our work is stressful. In short, our lives are a mess. And thankfully, we have a King who was born in the middle of a mess. He understands chaos as well as anyone.
As you attend Christmas eve services, as you light the candle and sing the ubiquitous hymns, please put a different picture in your mind’s eye. Remind yourself that Jesus’ birth was not harmony and happiness. It wasn’t peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It was dirty and difficult and down to earth…for you and for me.
Dearest God of Heaven Above,
Our lives our messy, God. Our hearts are hurting. Our minds are spinning. Our souls are aching.
As you did 2,000 years ago, Jesus, come into the chaos and heal our wounded, messy lives, our messy world.
We pray with all hope.