Submitted by Catherine Christie, article by Joyce Sasse taken from Country Preacher’s Notebook
Jesus was born in a manger, in a stable. In cities, people see the manger scene in store windows or church Christmas displays, or perhaps even set up in their own living room. But I fear that the scene loses its simplicity and meaning, plucked from its true surroundings. One Christmas, in one rural town I served, we recaptured that simplicity and meaning…
CHRISTMAS IN A BARN
The families at Lake Valley had resolved not to get as carried away with the bustle of Christmas this year. They remembered the chaos each year before, when every conceivable group in the area had to have a pre-Christmas party or recital, and every hour of every day in December was spent on the road, or shopping, or packing Christmas dainties, or carrying the kids home cranky and exhausted. “Besides”, they reasoned as we talked about the focus of our church activities for this particular Christmas season, “it’s time we adults tried to show the children what Christmas truly means to us.”
That started a lot of people thinking. The practice had been to have the children sing, and recite, in a nativity play.
This community was not a big place. It consisted of one abandoned elevator, one lamp post, and a church that served as a centre for worship and for community activities. Twenty families belonged to that congregation.
One of the young mothers said how much she appreciated the family focus whenever our congregation met. Another mused over how the rural part of the Bethlehem saga always seemed to get gobbled up in urban glitter. “We couldn’t we bring a sheep or two into the church?” she asked.
The chair of the church board grunted his disapproval.
“Well, if we can’t bring the barn to the church,” someone suggested, “why can’t we bring the church to the barn?” There, amid titters of excitement and disbelief, an idea for our Christmas and White-Gift service was born.
The chair’s own barn would do fine, with its menagerie of horses and cows, pigs and chickens, sheep and goats, kittens and a dog – and even a couple of buffalo in the outside corral. The focal point for the service would be the staff with the manger – so the children could present their white gifts to the one who was born in a manger.
We asked three grandfathers to dress as the Magi. A young father dressed as Joseph. A mother, wrapped in a shawl, brought her month-old baby (while her two-and-a-half-year-old trailed not far behind). Another member dressed as the angel. Each person was simply to walk in as their part of the Nativity Story was read.
The day of the event, there was fresh straw for bedding the animals, and sweet-smelling grass for the manger-stall. People hooked up a couple of extra lights, so worshipers could see to sing the hymns on the printed order of service. A six-year-old boy had to be comforted because “the barn smelled”, and he didn’t think that was the right atmosphere for a church service. Three-year-old Carley started to cry right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer when a pig nuzzled her through the boards of its pen. At one point the whole pen of pigs objected vigorously when someone stepped among them to snap a picture of the scene in the next stall!
Cars came from every direction, for no one wanted to miss this Christmas event. They dressed in ski suits and fur coats and high boots, and their breath hung in the frosty air. After the short service, they stamped the circulation back into their feet while drinking hot chocolate.
The idea had started among adults as a way to share our understanding of Christmas with our children. Now, in this special place, along with the children, we rediscovered old feelings and old truths about how the Child had come to be in our midst. The stark simplicity of the surroundings, the simple recollection of the traditions, the excitement shared over a special happening, and the warm love of family and friends, gave Christmas a very special meaning.
We wished everyone ‘Season’s Greetings’, and meant what we said.