It seems an unlikely, but strangely right, place to spend the final hours of Christmas.
While the planet twinkles in the glow of trees circled with plates piled high in shortbread and fruitcake, stacks of unwrapped love, and perfectly imperfect family, our Christmas night has us far away from it all. Far away in a barn.
Sows grunt, piglets root and nuzzle udders for milky warm, and snow falls soundlessly out there in the dark. I am supposed to be feeding these hungry sows chopped corn, soybeans, but the sounds mesmerize me into still: were these the first sounds of earth that reverberated in His ear drums?
From the lofty, soaring arias of the heavenly host to this, this snorting of beasts, this banging of feed troughs?
And the smells: from the incense that wafted through the celestial heights, to this air hanging thick with dung’s rank, dust’s heavy itch?
I mean, He’s God. He could have chosen anywhere to be born. Hard to comprehend: God left kairos and entered into chronos through the means of a barn. Not to vaulted domes or marbled floors, but to a cob-webbed, manure reeking barn, a barn where most refined folk would not step foot in without changing clothes, without covering offended olfactory senses.
But, crazy relief, our God isn’t antiseptic, carefully avoiding dirt, grime, stink. Of all the magnificent places on this spinning orb , He intentionally decided to clothe himself as a naked baby and birth his virgin skin onto a mucking bed for animals.
God chose a barn as His entry point.
A place into which we would hesitate to even carry a babe through, let alone deliver a vulnerable newborn, the very Incarnation.
Funny how the lights celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, God with us, still illuminate this earth when we begin to prepare for a New Year, a new hope. A new us.
Standing here, slopping hogs, it seems so clear: The New Year only has hope because Christmas happened out in a dung heap.
These visions of a new year of excellence, dreams of accomplishments, pursuits of perfection? These all will prove barren “for human efforts accomplish nothing.”
In the mist of the squeal of piglets, I can hear the Barn Babe, “Apart from me, you can do nothing…”
Every year when we rip off the last calendar page and begin time with a clean slate, the Barn Babe is still new, stretching, waiting to grow up in us. He chooses our dirty places, our stinking places, the places that shame us, as His point of entry.
Good thing He doesn’t disdain the barnyards of my life: the foul attitudes, the beastly ways, the dirty sins I attempt to scrub clean—to no avail. He intimately knows the muck of my lives, the stench I try to mask.
The Christ Child enters our lives in the places where the flies buzz over refuse and dung and chooses.
Without the Babe who came to the barn, who didn’t hesitate to meet me in the rotting mess of my daily sin, the new year would only be a rehashing of the old year. The swaddled babe murmurs, “Behold, I ‘m making all things new.”
I take Farmer Husband’s hand and we walk out of the barn and into the chill of Christmas night and out towards the New Year. Black velvet heavens seem warm, close, nailed up there with shimmering stars. Christmas night and the world seems hushed; even the children, clumped in pairs, whisper through the halo of bright from the barnyard light.
I glance over at the sleeping orchard, winter white blanketing the feet of young trees.
The New Year about to be birthed has the potential of good fruit because of what was birthed in the stink of the barn.
On the cusp of a New Year, I can feel it: the excitement of radical transformation, the possibility of real change.
Our New Year’s may still smell of the Christmas barn — which is exactly why we have Hope.
Father? Thank you for New Year Hope because of the Barnyard Christmas Babe. Grow up in my messy places, Christ Child.
A repost from the archives that I’ve been returning to again and again the last few days. Hope for the coming year! And change!