Published: December 24, 2022
Updated: January 20, 2023
“Shut the door! Were you born in a barn?” is a phrase I heard said often when I was young. I wasn’t born in a barn, but like Jesus, I’ve laid/played in a cow hay and corn manger. I was raised on a farm with two barns and in these two barns we kept cows. I took many trips to those barns to work and to play and to spend time with my father and sometimes I’d sit quietly in the haymow with bales of hay stacked high over the cows. The barn was a place to find the true meaning of peace on earth. I quietly nestled in the hay sometimes to be alone and others in times of play. I looked forward to the haymow play with my brother. We had unbelievable construction talents as we transformed the mow full of carefully stacked bales of hay into hay rooms and tunnels and traps. Sometimes we were surprised by our father. He would have finished the milking chore for the evening and would sneak up to the haymow and unexpectedly give us a great surprise!! And then give us a chase through the tunnels and caves we had constructed. Our construction went on throughout the winter and we gave hints on where we did not want the hay to be taken away for feeding the cows.
We always had a number of barn cats when I was growing up and each one was a pet. They were given the job of mouse catcher--eliminating mice--which was then assumed was their food. For the privilege of being barn cats with its shelter and warmth from the cows, they received a pan of fresh warm milk twice a day. Nowadays, we are told how bad milk is for cats but the cats didn't know that then and it was a time of great anticipation for them. How fun to see 10, 15, even 20 cats gathered around a big pan lapping furiously trying to get "my fair share." I do not have to fight for my fair share of "milk." God has enough milk/love to go around for everyone all over the world.
As I grew older, I went to the barn to have my father and uncle's attention. I could have time alone with them. And if I had a math problem too hard for me to solve, they could help me out. Though the way they solved it was often not the method I had to show to the teacher. But I had an answer! Once in a while, I did not get an answer right away but the next morning, after a good night's rest, often they would give me the answer I needed. God always pays attention to me, and my needs. He is available any time and in any place for answers to my problems. Sometimes I get an answer right away, sometimes I wait. I am always thankful for answers!!!!
Sometimes on winter nights, I watched the animals bed down in a fresh layer of clean straw spread out by my uncle and later my brother. Even though I could see a frozen misty cloud form from each breath, often in the serenity and calmness within the barn, I no longer felt cold. The wings of pigeons could be heard fluttering high in the shadows of the barn as they maneuvered between the rafters. There was a separate pen with young calves where they hungrily received a bottle of milk. I felt privileged to sometimes be allowed that job. I often let the little ones find my thumb as a substitute for the bottle. How strong they sucked on my thumb and fingers. The calf pen was also where I could find a "clean" salt block that tempted me to have a lick, and sometimes find a thin piece to break off for a treat. God placed value in us as the salt of the earth to bring flavor to a somewhat tasteless life.
Just as the calves had an instinct to suck, we too have instincts that send us on a search for God and for His love and care and nourishment.
A number of years ago we visited New England. I found it interesting to see the long buildings that were both the home and the barn all connected. One might wonder about the noise and smells. But the weather of New England--and here this week--makes it understandable. Going from a warm house into the barn without having to bundle up for below zero temperatures is to be desired. Many think that the place of Jesus' birth was not a barn but actually a home. The living area was an upper level and the lower level was a place where the animals were kept safe at night. The manger bed for the new baby that night was a hollowed-out area that contained the hay for the cows and sheep and perhaps the donkey. Many of the carol hymns we sing this time of year have references to farm agriculture. The First Noel speaks of poor shepherds in fields where they lay keeping their sheep. Today the USA has about 5 million sheep. Away in the Manger tells us the cattle were lowing [near] the manger. Today there are about 67,760 head of cattle in Palestine. You have a good chance of hearing cattle lowing there. When you sing the carol “The 12 Days of Christmas”, and add up all the references to livestock and consider the market value of them and the hired workers, you would spend about $6,195. God does not have to add up the values that I have. He has numbered the hairs on my head and found me to be of immense value--enough to come to this world and live here and then to die for me!
And then each day in the barn would end and, soon all would be still as the busy night turned to slumber. This is the time of the year when our thoughts often turn to a Special Place where animals lived and were fed. And into that Special Place a Special Baby was born. Don't you wish you were a mouse or a pigeon or an owl or a kitty back in a dark corner during that happening, watching and wondering?
I have not found many places cozier than the inside of a barn. Although animals offer little in conversation, they will show you no contempt. The barn or stable as you might have it, is a place of quiet and filled with my friends, the animals/cats. On a Silent night, a Holy night, when all is calm you can find heaven on earth, away in a manger, and where all things sleep in peace.