Urban children probably found it more difficult to relate to the story of that first Christmas night than those of us who grew up with the smells and sounds and warmth of a barn in winter, the close relationship with animals and bundles of clean, golden straw that kept farm boys and animals warm and shielded from icy winds, frozen sod and cold concrete.
For me, on the 24th of December — three days before the shortest day of the year — out in the barnyard doing chores before dark, I would come alive to Christmas. The closeness to rural activity and farming at that time of day — that same time when Mary and Joseph were looking for a warm place to stay — somehow directed my thoughts to that faraway country. We lived and worked in surroundings not unlike those that provided shelter to Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus on that long ago Christmas night.
So try to imagine the intense excitement and emotion this farm boy felt when, as an adult, I went to Bethlehem during the Christmas season and visited the Church of the Nativity (built on the land where that manger-bed had held my Savior hundreds of years earlier). Then I walked out into the nearby Shepherds Field, embracing the glorious history of the incarnation of Christ, accompanied by the smells of grain and sod and the feelings of amazement and unbridled joy that were experienced by those who heard the angels’ announcement so many years ago.
Even yet, it is difficult to find words that express the emotions I experienced on that night in Bethlehem, standing on the same parcel of land where the shepherds awoke to the magnificent announcement made by the angel of the Lord: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
(Pictured left: Bill with his brother Danny)
On Christmas Eve, our family always expanded to include relatives and friends who joined in the laughter, the food, the celebration and music that were a traditional part of our holiday. Danny, Mary Ann and I loved playing with the harmonies of “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “I Heard the Bells” and a dozen other carols. Then as we sang together “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and realized once more the meaning of “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight,” we felt the emotional intensity of those days leading up to the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Strong, positive feelings — hopes and dreams for the future — were notably higher than at any other time of our year.
Many years after those cold winters of working in the barn, taking care of the animals, I can still almost smell the sweet, warm hay and hear the noises of chewing and chomping, mooing and neighing and feel the chill of wind whipping at the barn door. It is those sounds and smells and feelings that transport me back to the stable in Bethlehem and the remembrance of the Christ Child who brought joy to our world, peace on earth and hope to all who put their trust in Him. Life is still all about what happened in the barn.
For more articles featuring Bill Gaither, click here.