There’s a Baby in the Barn

Peggysue WellsBy Peggysue Wells5 Minutes

Participating each year in the annual church Christmas pageant gave me the erroneous impression that the humble barn where Jesus was born was a quiet country setting where the hay smelled sweet and gentle doves in the rafters coo a soothing lullaby. The crowning moment of each December’s extravaganza was the Nativity scene. Dressed in bedsheets and their fathers’ oversized bathrobes, all the children solemnly sang Silent Night.

Then, I moved to the country, got my own barn, and had my own birth in the stable.

Drought forced a farmer to sell his livestock, including a soft-eyed, pregnant mare.
 “She’s just like Mary,” my teens implored. “She needs a place to have her baby.”

So this innkeeper found room in our stable for the mother-to-be. A baby monitor allowed us to hear what happened in the barn during the night. From the birds in the rafters above came a cacophony of twittering and chirping, while below industrious mice scampered and burrowed through hay, gleaning grain horses generously spilled from their feed buckets.

Taking their time, the horses clattered their buckets against the wooden beams as they chewed molasses-covered oats. After munching hay and slurping water, the quadrupeds rustled through the straw to bed down. Once asleep, the horses groaned while they napped and passed gas so loud we thought the mare was giving birth and dashed to the barn in the middle of the night.

After weeks of false alarms, the long-anticipated baby was born in her own time on a night I was too sleep-deprived to tiptoe to the barn. What an exquisite wonder that morning to discover a newborn in the stable.

And that’s why this year’s Christmas pageant stands as my all-time favorite. “Let’s have live animals,” the music director crowed.

On opening night, the church’s staging was elaborate. The well-rehearsed singers took their place. The orchestra began on the downbeat. “Joy to the world,” the audience joined their voices with the choir as the words appeared on the overhead. “Let men their sons employ.”

Choreographed to mask the clamorous rearrangement of animals on stage, the pianist’s solo was the only quiet part of the colorful extravaganza. The keyboard was unplugged. From behind the stage curtains, the audience heard the trainer smooching at the gray donkey whose reluctance to come on stage was only a shadow of his stronger reluctance to walk off.

The violinist’s microphone was mute as the wise men bowed before the loudly wailing Christ child. Mary and Joseph did their best to appear holy while curious sheep nibbled their robes, burped, and chewed their malodorous cud.

Suddenly, a runaway sheep escaped his post and dashed about the picturesque little town of Bethlehem. So engrossed by the drama, the drummer forgot to drum. The conductor looked up from conducting and blanched as the speeding sheep fairly leapt into his arms.

By the second performance, the “g” was added to sons on the overhead, the keyboard and violin found their plugs, and quality fencing was installed for the roaming sheep. The remainder of the Christmas pageant performances played out without hitch, but my favorite remains the opening night. That initial dramatization seemed a sweet reenactment of what reality probably looked like for Mary and Joseph on that most important night.

When Mary was due to deliver her firstborn, she and Joseph traveled from their hometown of Nazareth. The holy family found the only semi-private setting in the little town of Bethlehem that teemed with extended family members who crowded into the homes of relatives to be counted by the government for the census.

Amidst unfamiliar noises, smells, and surroundings, Mary brought forth her firstborn child and laid the babe in the starlit manger. What an exquisite wonder to discover the newborn who made his entrance into our world and hearts by first appearing in the humble stable.

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