Conner Prairie is a living history museum located five minutes from my house. The popular vacation spot is a village where costumed interpreters recreate life in 1829. Even though I've visited Conner Prairie many times, participated in numerous programs, even volunteered as a seamstress for a few months, I always enjoy watching the village change through the seasons.
Each spring the animal barn is filled with bulging-bellied mothers waiting to give birth. Goats, cows and sheep are nesting in anticipation of new life.
Last May I came to the animal barn excited to see what was new. I noticed a mother sheep resting in a corner of the barn almost buried in straw.
"Why does the sheep have so much straw around her?" I asked the volunteer.
"She is preparing to give birth. The straw keeps the dust settled so when the lambs are born, they do not aspirate dust, which could lead to difficulty breathing and possible death."
Reflecting on this lesson from the barn later in the day, I thought about Mary on the night Jesus was born. I believe there were more preparations for the sheep about to deliver than there were for Mary. Surely there was dust in the stable where Jesus was born. Straw, animals and dust go together. I wondered if Jesus aspirated any dust following his birth.
On the surface, Mary's preparation for Jesus' birth seemingly looks sloppy and haphazard - riding on a donkey during the ninth month of pregnancy, walking around Bethlehem trying to find a place to stay, eventually settling in a stable for animals. All of these circumstances are quite different from preparations available to expectant parents today who start planning for birth soon after a pregnancy is discovered.
Jesus' birth was really the culmination of Mary and Joseph's whole lives. Both knew God, both had hearts open to God's leading in confusing circumstances and both wholeheartedly gave themselves to God with faith and trust. Jesus' birth was not completely a beginning, but an ending and beginning for two persons who walked closely with God.
The workers in the barn at Conner Prarie prepared the area so the mother sheep could birth her lambs safely, but the preparation that brought Mary and Joseph to a similar place - a barn and a stable - came from spending years of time with God, seeking God at all times and celebrating - even in confusion and uncertainty about what the future would bring - God in person.
Prayer: God, you appear in many places, even as unusual as birthing your son in a stable filled with animals and covered with dust and straw. Guide our seeking and trust in you so we can emulate Mary and Joseph, who took confusing news and responded with faith. Amen.
For Your Reflection:
How do you prepare for the birth of Christ - in your home, spiritually with friends, in your church, in the community? What new practices can become traditions to welcome Christ in your heart?