A barn with cattle and horses is the place to begin Christmas. After all, that’s where the original event happened, and that same smell was the first air that the Christ Child breathed.—Paul Engle
It is probably fair to say that those candle shops that do a big business at Christmas don’t have candles that smell like barns. Before anyone goes on the offensive, I have been around enough barns to know that a farmer worth his or her salt keeps a clean barn. Engle does make the point that the rarified air of our elaborate nativity scenes probably should be earthier.
As a Calvinist I am supposed to like these plainer versions of worship and Christmas. Part of our history is that we cleaned out the artwork of sanctuaries like a rock band in a hotel. As my children grew into wonderful adults our Christmases did get plainer. Then we had a grandchild and welcomed Fisher-Price back into our lives.
Somewhere between the barns, the baby, and the big story of God entering human flesh is the sweet spot. It is the spot where God can once again find us expectant and hopeful. It is the place where we are once again surprised by this wonderful act of grace.
In England and parts of Europe there existed tithe barns. Farmers brought their tithe of their farm crop to the barn in support of the local church. Many of these tithe barns were themselves grand structures capable of holding large amounts of grain. The relationship between the field and the sanctuary was much clearer in an agrarian economy.
I hope this Advent we are able to link our daily toil and our holy quest in a much deeper and earthier way. May we inhale the worldly air that comes from God and breathe out joy at the joyous news that God has come looking for us.