It's been anything but a day-of-rest kind of Sunday. Beginning with our pellet stove not lighting (or even clicking), it was a cold morning. A bit later, while I was still trying to warm my chilly hands around my mug of tea, I asked Beve if he heard the water I was hearing. "Well, I started the washer a while ago." Hmm, that must be it, I thought, and dismissed it from my mind. But then I heard a bang. And then Beve, coming out of our bathroom, said, "I hear water, and our toilet isn't filling." When Beve opened our basement/cellar door a frantic moment later, water poured out, and two inches covered the floor. And worse, a waterfall was flowing from a pipe above a metal storage unit where everything from our high school yearbooks to our kids' childhood treasures, to Beve's parents' early photo albums are stored. And now ruined. Beve got the water turned off, a plumber arrived half an hour later, the problem remedied for now (though we need a new regulator, whatever that is). But those treasures are toast. Irreplaceable.
We've been drying things all over the house all day. And, as I was leaning over at some point, my cell phone fell out of my pocket and our incorrigible dog, Kincade, grabbed it and--you guessed it--chewed it up. That's the 4th cell-phone since school started. I screamed. Literally screamed so loud Beve came running from the basement. Put Kincade in his kennel, calmed me down. Asked me if I want to get rid of him (sometimes I wonder!). Fortunately, I have a back-up for the back-up for the back-up for the back-up...now I'm using my sister's old phone. Sigh.
Oh, and did I mention that Beve put his back out?
As I said, it was a really relaxing Sunday. A true Sabbath.
We never even got over to see Grampie today. Not that he'll notice. But we did.
And I intended to write this post a whole lot earlier, and with a lot more sensitivity. Sweetness. But the truth is, sometimes life is raw and gritty and we spend what should be restful and reflective cleaning up a flood. Calling plumbers. Working in the cellar.
And maybe that makes it even more sweet that I'm still thinking about that stable, that most base of all places, where very little is clean and all of life is carried out right there in the hay. Life and death and eating and elimination for all the creatures who call it 'home', if they had language to call it anything. I think of all the creatures we can find in such places as barns and stables, like the ones stabled or fed there, like cows and sheep and horses and donkeys (I'd include pigs, but that stable was a Jewish stable so you can be sure there were no pigs there). But there are the uninvited creatures as well--rats and fleas and lice and other bugs whose names I do not know. Other burrowing rodents, perhaps, a stray cat, birds in the rafters. Who knows what else.
The stable is teeming with life. Ripe with it and you can bet that at any given time there are pregnant animals and fowl and insects. There is creation happening everywhere you turn.
Into this fully alive place is born the baby Jesus. And before a single human saw Him other than His human mother and dad, the animals saw Him. They who were created BEFORE humans saw Him as a human first. There's a startling symmetry to this, I think. Those creatures didn't sin against Him. God created them and saw that they were good, Genesis says. And when He created humans those creatures of every kind were given to us to rule.
We like that, I think. We're glad to have dominion over beasts. To rule the earth and every other species on it. I've often read of our superiority over all the other creatures on this earth. We have language, for one thing; the ability to communicate with each other. And we use tools. These are two of the things that separate us from beasts. But though these things are great gifts, they can cause great harm. They have. Because we are also sinners. We are separated from the rest of the species on this earth by our ability to choose, because we alone are made in His image, which is the most spectacular creation of all. And it's ours, and with that creation, comes the free choice that is part of His character. Yet...from the tree-of-life beginning, we have chosen, and choose wrong. Daily. Bluntly, we sin.
So maybe that's why is this Genesis moment of the Incarnation, He honors the animals. Just for a moment. It isn't for them that He came, of course. I certainly don't intend such a distortion of the gospel. I'm not even saying the creatures understood what they saw that night. But God knew. And God is always intentional. I can imagine that He had purposes in that place, and gave a spirit there that we cannot begin to understand, no matter how often we read the gospels, or how long we walk with Him. His coming will always be a mystery. It doesn't take much to imagine the scene in the moments before anyone else enters the story.
When He's simply lying in the manger with only Mary, Joseph and the stable animals watching Him, it's like a held-breath of time. A pregnant pause before the action starts. I suppose it gives Mary and Joseph a few moments (though we don't actually know how long it was) to collect themselves. Mary and Joseph were just two country folks from Nazareth, they were used to such sounds so the gentle sounds of the stable was soothing, I imagine. I think even this moment becomes an irreplaceable treasure to Mary.
But then, of course, the story takes off.
And when the angel appears to the shepherds, when the host joins in the chorus to those people on a hillside, we're invited in as well. Because these are not dignitaries to whom the news comes, but the most lowly of the lowly. Over and over, the most important Good News is given to unexpected people. The disenfranchised. Those who we might overlook.
Us. Really. Us. Each of us falls into the story as the lowly. The sinful, but the beloved to whom He comes. It's a contradiction that saves our lives.
But first, let's hold our breath, and listen to the sounds of the creatures who get to see Him first.