Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Nativity

Posted on | December 24, 2009 | No Comments

Of course, I had to pause for a moment.  I am tucking in the animals on a winter’s evening.  The water is turned off to keep the hoses from freezing.  The chicken coops are shut and locked.  A peek at the ducks and a visit to the goats to ensure all is well.  All of this is usually accomplished as fast as my feet can go in order to get my freezing fingers back in front of the wood stove.  But tonight I am stopped in the goat barn, leaning against the hay rack and stirring a finger in their water bucket.

Now I have seen enough PBS documentaries to know that December 25th has more to do with the church calendar and the winter solstice than the actual birthday of Jesus.  But if there was a time and place to remember that event, it is here and now.  I can hear the ducks dabbling in their water trough.  The rooster is crowing, as he always does when he sees my flashlight flitting around the barn yard.  Just his way of letting me know he is on guard even without the sunrise. The goats are pressed against my legs, nuzzling my hands and clothes to check for treats.  It is just a regular old barn.  The scent of manure competing with the odors of hay and the animals themselves.  What would it have been like to meet your child for the first time under these conditions?

We used to have a friend who preached that people get to wrapped up in the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  He stressed that the real, important miracle was the Resurrection after the crucifixion, without which there would be no Christianity.  I always told him that only a man would gloss over the virgin birth.  If he had felt the growing life inside his womb with no cause except a message from an angel, then I think he would find it a bit more miraculous.  If his betrothed was willing to accept the pregnancy when women were stoned for infidelity or premarital sex, he might be more impressed.  But I always wondered how he, a father of 3, could not understand what is so miraculous about the Nativity.

A birth is always a setting for fear and hope, pain and joy.  For Mary and Joseph to find themselves with only a barn and some leftover cloth to greet their newborn must have tested their faith in themselves, in their God, in this miracle.  How can any parent not be shaken to the core by the thought of confronting all those emotions, alone and in such a humble setting?

I like to think they were comforted by the presence of the animals.  Long before we feared any bacteria that crossed our path, people lived closer with their livestock.  So maybe Mary and Joseph found the swish of the donkey’s tail and the lowing of the oxen to be a familiar and calming sound.  Perhaps they were the type of people who patted the animals’ flanks kindly upon entering the stable.  And spoke softly with reassuring words as they, the strangers in the animals’ home, settled themselves for the night.  Even if the birth was too imminent for such pleasantries, I hope they found the chewing of cud in the background and stamping of hooves to be a sign that the natural order was in place.  Just as on this dark night I know the occasional rustle of feathers and soft bleat is a sign that all is well, all is calm, the peace of the evening sleep is coming.

Of course, the angels were with them, too.  Now you might imagine trumpets and blinding lights but I doubt this was the case for them.  No, I think the angels present at that birth were the ones you and I know quite well.  The ones you have met on the nights you lie awake beside your child, unable to sleep for the constant checking of your hand against his sweaty forehead. Waiting, hoping, praying for the fever to break.  Or the times you sit beside her bed in the darkness, trying to decide if her cough is raspy enough to warrant waking her for a steamy shower.  Willing to give anything in your power for her lungs to clear.  On those nights, there are only the quiet house sounds—the heat clicking on, the fridge humming to itself, the dog’s sigh. You can hear your own heart beating in your chest and occasionally, between your own breaths, you will catch the sound of angels breathing, too.  Who knows if angels can or often do something to help your child.  But there is no doubt that they are there.  Perhaps, their presence is most noticeable when they have gone and you awake from an unexpected doze to find yourself alone, the air empty of their watchfulness, and your little one at ease beside you.  Yes, I think the angels with Mary and Joseph that night are the ones that have been with parents throughout the ages.  With our babies as closely as they were with the Son of God.

So you can put your faith in the glory of the Resurrection.  It is true that miracle gave us the gift of everlasting life, a pardon we did not deserve.  But I heard God for the first time when I stood in my barn, holding a warm egg in my hand, listening to the peep and peck as a chick struggled to break free.  And I believe God led Joseph and Mary to that stable, away from a crowded and busy city, so they could hear Him whispering in the darkness.  I believe He chose to surround them with gentle, honest creatures to comfort them.  I believe that humble shelter left plenty of room for the multitude of angels bending near the Earth.  I believe that God chose a miracle in a setting so simple, with emotions so common, that a mother standing in a goat barn two thousand years later can close her eyes and almost put herself there.  Glorious, indeed.

It is time to go now.  There are still gifts to wrap and assemble.  We have, of course, bought too much.  And I want to prepare a pie for Christmas dinner.  I scratch my goat behind the ears and head out.  In the front yard I glance at the silhouettes of the naked trees against the starry night sky.  I am blessed here.  That for a moment, I can escape the search for the perfect present, the stress of getting a nice family photo for the scrapbook, the desire for the children to behave during a fancy dinner.  For just a moment I can almost touch what Christmas is really, truly about.  And it is a miracle.  The rooster crows after my retreating light.  Merry Christmas, friends.  May you find your silent, holy night.

© Stevie Taylor 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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