The winds were scornful,
And gathering Angels
A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
For who in all the world
That God would search out
~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable” from Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine Marist Press, 1946.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
~G. K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas”
Beholding his glory is only half our job.
In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth;
we are not really Christians till that has been done.
A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited
by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice—
animals which take up a lot of room
and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet.
And it is there between them, pushing them out,
that Christ must be born
and in their very manger he must be laid—
and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him.
Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals
than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.
…as the night of this world folds you in
its brutal frost (the barnyard smell strong as sin),
and as Joseph, weary with unwelcome and relief, His hands
bloody from your birth, spreads his thin cloak
around you both, we doubly bless you. Baby,
as you are acquainted, for the first time, with our grief.
~Luci Shaw from “A Blessing for a New Baby”
If I recall correctly, the first catalog with holiday theme items arrived in our mailbox in late July. The “BEST CHRISTMAS ISSUE EVER!” magazines hit the racks in September. Then, with the chill in the air in October and Halloween past, the stores put out the Santa decorations and red and white candy, instead of the orange and black candy of the previous 6 weeks. I have been inundated with commercial “Christmas” for months now and finally, it is about to arrive, after considerable fanfare and folderol. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, beat to a “best ever holiday” pulp.
All of this has little to do with the original gift given that first Christmas night, lying small and helpless in a barn feed trough. I know a fair amount about feed troughs, having daily encounters with them in our barn, and there is no fanfare there and no grandiosity. Just basic sustenance– every day needs fulfilled in the most simple and plain way. Our wooden troughs are so old, they have been filled with fodder thousands of times over the decades. The wood has been worn smooth and shiny from years of being sanded by cows’ rough tongues, and over the last two decades, our horses’ smoother tongues, as they lick up every last morsel, extracting every bit of flavor and nourishment from what has been offered there. No matter how tired, how hungry, there is comfort offered at those troughs. The horses know it, anticipate it, depend on it, thrive because of it.
The shepherds in the hills that night were starving too. They had so little, yet became the first invited to the feast at the trough. They must have been overwhelmed, having never known such plenty before. Overcome with the immensity of what was laid before them, they certainly could not contain themselves, and told everyone they could about what they had seen.
His mother listened to the excitement of the visiting shepherds and that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. Whenever I’m getting caught up in the frenetic overblown commercialism of modern Christmas, I go out to the barn and look at our rough hewn feed troughs and think about what courage it took to entrust an infant to such a bed. She knew in her heart, indeed she had been told, that her son was to feed the hungry souls of human kind and He became fodder Himself.
Now I am at the trough, starving, sometimes stamping in impatience, often anxious and weary, at times hopeless and helpless. He was placed there for good reason: a treasure to be shared plain and simple, nurture without end for all.
Who needs Christmas cookies, pumpkin pies and the candy canes to fill the empty spot deep inside?
Just kneel at the manger.
O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in præsepio.
Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Christum, Alleluia!
O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord
lying in their manger.
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!