I love nativity scenes.
I have several. They’re beautiful. I love looking at them. But, really, there’s something wrong with all of them.
They’re all pretty. And clean.
That’s what we want, of course. Pretty. Clean. Sweet. “Awww, look at baby Jesus, and pretty Mary, and all the sweet animals.” The majesty and holiness. “Ah, yes, that holy night, the wise men and angels worship the Christ-child.”
And there is, certainly, a miraculous and holy truth that’s being conveyed by our lovely nativity scenes. This WAS a holy birth. The Son of God Himself, born as a human! It’s overwhelming, when you really think about it. And so, of course, we make the nativity a beautiful, majestic scene. God deserves beautiful! And clean! And perfect!
But…the reality of that night? It wasn’t perfect. Or majestic. Or pretty. Or clean. Or sweet-smelling. Have you ever been in a barn where animals live? There’s a reason they call it “mucking out” the stalls.
Because there’s, you know, muck, in the stalls. Even in clean barns. Where there are animals, there’s mess. There’s dirt. There’s filth of all sorts, and all the smells that go with it. Gross, nasty, filth. Not exactly the place you’d want to have your baby, right?
And I guess it would feel almost sacrilegious to have a nativity scene that conveyed all that. Or maybe it just wouldn’t be nice to look at. I mean, really, who would buy that one? The smelly, ugly, dirty one? Myself, I like to look at pretty things, when I get to choose. And I’d much rather smell citrus or peppermint than donkey sweat or sheep dung.
But you know what? God chose the real-life version of that nativity scene. He CHOSE the smelly, ugly, dirty one. And I think that’s important.
The God who created the universe, who is holy and pure and all-powerful, in order to save His rebellious children from their sins, chose to humble Himself and be born in the likeness of men — in a stable. With all the filth.
There is so much beauty for us in this. And I think it’s beautifully expressed in this poem by Leslie Leyland Fields. My dad shared it with me a few years ago, and I’ve shared every year since. I hope it’s as meaningful and hopeful to you as it was to Dad, and as it is to me.
Let the Stable Still Astonish
by Leslie Leyland Fields
Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
And says, “Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here —
In this place.”