A blessed Christmas.
Born in a stable
The barn was located in the far corner of my grandparent’s property. It was large with three horse stalls and rather enticing because it was so far from the sight of adults. There my brother, whose nose was mostly in a book and my sister, would play. Hiding amongst the straw and hay, holding our noses to the sometimes strong odor the horses gave off; hiding and seeking in the stalls, we created many fond memories of the barn.
Was this the stable Jesus was born? Was it a barn like we find in Kansas?
Scripture scholars paint a different picture of this stable than our experiences paint.
Archaeologists have excavated first century homes in what was Judah. They have discovered that the upper level of a home served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft.
This is where the manger comes into play. Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in the lower level of a crowded house, in which some of the animals had been brought in for the night. She then wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger (feeding trough).
Does this image of the nativity scene change things for you?
Saint Ignatius promoted the use of one’s five senses. Perhaps using your five senses you might get a feel for the scene of the stable.
Sight. What do you see? Is it dark or light? If light, then the light is coming from candles, torches or lanterns casting shadows. Of course there is wood holding the place together, but what kind of ceiling is it? Rough or smooth wood. What about the floor? Loose or hard packed? Look around and see what you can see. …..
Hearing. What do you hear? May I draw your attention to the footsteps you might hear from above if the stable is the lower level of a crowded house? Footsteps and shuffling. Perhaps muffled voices. People talking. Babies crying. Voices of joy or frustration? What do you hear? …
Smell. Can you smell musty odor of last summer’s straw? Then you detect the undertones: the stuffy musk of animal fur and the stink of old, dried-out dung and droppings, and maybe mixed with all these earthy animal smells you receive a whiff of food. Perhaps bread with some meat gravy? What do you smell? ….
Touch. Reach down and touch the floor of the stable. The surface is pitted. Take your hand, and spread it broadly over the surface. Feel the coldness and roughness of the wood. The coldness penetrates up your forearm. Take your other hand and place it on the wooden post. Feel the strength of the post and floor. How does it feel to hold the floor and post? …..
Taste. This will be the most difficult to experience. Some of the tastes will be from the smells. But perhaps your mouth is dry. Maybe you are a shepherd who has travel some distance and your mouth tastes tinny because you have not eaten from some hours and are thirsty. Perhaps you are one of the people from upstairs coming downstairs to the stable to check out the guest’s newborn baby and you have just eaten dinner. What do you taste? ….
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Our Lord is to be experienced. This short meditation perhaps will help you to experience the surroundings of the Lord’s birth. Now take that experience and bring it to the people involved. Their faces. Their expressions. The manner in which they speak. The feelings you receive when they look at you. The desires you have when they look away.
This is prayer. Prayer is about a relationship and relationships are to be experienced. May this Christmas and new year be a renewed call to experience the Lord through prayer.