As is my routine on Saturdays, I spent part of this day in the barn, filling water buckets, then going from stall to stall to clean out manure and wet spots, and finally adding fresh bedding. Then I climbed high in the hay stack in the barn and rolled hay bales down to load into the wheel barrow to push into the stable for the next day's feedings. It is preparation for Sunday, which we try to treat as Sabbath, a day of rest, as much as we are able on a farm. There are always chores to do every day, but they can be abbreviated on Sunday thanks to the work accomplished the previous day. This is the nature of farming-- preparing and readying for what is to come.
Farmers, by nature, are a hopeful lot. We plan ahead, plot out our next year's crop, choose our seed in advance and plant it with anticipation. We prune and we plow and we store up mountains of feed far in advance. We evaluate pedigrees and scrutinize genetics carefully. And we wait patiently. As I clean their stalls, I watch my mares' bellies roll with the movement of their unborn foals and I picture the new life in my mind's eye. There is a harvest of hope in those bellies.
Unlike many modern horse barns, my decades old stable is a particularly plain and humble place with dirt floors, and as the support beams have settled over the years the door hinges don't hang balanced and true any longer, so the stall doors are sticky and sometimes hard to open in the wet weather. Despite the lack of fancy design though, I haven't heard the horses complain--their meals taste as good, they are warm and dry in the cold wet weather and cool in the hot weather. Their needs are met there and amazingly, so are mine.
Christmas began in a stable--probably a dark cave that served the purpose of housing animals. It most assuredly was plain and humble, smelling of manure and urine, and animal fur. Yet it also would have smelled of the sweetness of stored forage, and there would have been the reassuring sounds of animals chewing and breathing deeply. It was truly the only place a group of scruffy shepherds could have felt welcomed without being tossed out as unsuitable visitors-- they arrived at the threshold dirty and terrified and left transformed, returning to their fields full of praise and wonder, telling all they met what they had seen.
There could not have been a more suitable place for this birth that was to change the world: the promise of cleansing hope and peace in the midst of filth that must be removed so as not to overwhelm us as we stand knee deep in it. Despite our sorry state, we are welcomed into the sanctuary of the stable, sown, grown, pruned and harvested to become seed and food for others.
If the shepherds became a harvest of hope, then surely so should we.
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