(image from here)
Christmas Eve church services always make me a bit emotional.
Something about singing carols and lighting candles, and remembering the journey of an extraordinary family who faced an arduous journey at a most inconvenient time, only to find nowhere to sleep and Mary in labor.I cannot fathom how scared she must have felt, her first child, miles and miles from her home.
But at service this year, surrounded by my own beloved family, a different part of the story grabbed my attention.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,
which is Christ the Lord.
And this [shall be] a sign unto you;
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
-King James Bible
The first people to bear witness to this miracle (and the first to believe it and spread the news), were common shepherds tending their flocks.
What an unlikely group of people to receive such news. Shepherds were considered by the general populace to be of low station, untrustworthy and ceremoniously unclean.
Yet, the angels came to them. And where did they find Jesus sleeping? In a manger, a livestock feeder, full of hay.
I have a manger in my barn (my stable!). It is full of sweet-smelling hay (which is far different than the scratchy stalks of straw found in most nativity scene mangers).
I understand, with first-hand insight, the humbleness of this place within the barn.
And although there were no alpacas present at this birth scene, later there would be some of their cousins - camels (both of the camelid family), bearing the three wise men, traveling from afar.
My boys love their hay and can't wait to come to the manger (a re-purposed horse trough) every day after I've replenished it.
Some days when there is nothing pressing on my "to-do" list, I stand awhile in the barn, watching them eat, enjoying their presence.
They make little humming noises that I think the baby Jesus would have found quite comforting. I know I do.
Even with a highway full of cars whizzing past the front pasture, it seems so quiet and peaceful in the barn.
Time, and the outside world, cease to exist.
In my own very small way, I am a shepherd of my own small flock.
I love the simple daily rituals of tending to the boys' needs, the exuberance with which they come to the gate when I arrive, eager for their pellets and hay, the way these acts of service ground me to something ancient and primitive, stripping away the complexities of my technologically driven day by reminding me of the very simple necessities of life - food, shelter, water, companions.
It is not difficult for me to imagine why a barn was chosen as the humble birthplace of Jesus.
In fact, I can think of no better place to be.