On Christmas Eve, 1997, I lay in a pitch-black barn and listened to puppies feeding eight inches below the platform where I’d rolled out my mat. The thin blanket I’d borrowed from Filipino friends couldn’t stretch across my taller American frame to cover head and feet simultaneously. So between the pups and the mosquitoes, sleep wasn’t an option. Tomorrow my four companions and I would deliver the small gifts we’d brought by ox-cart to the isolated families trying to eek out a living on the hillsides, now becoming productive again six years after Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption.
I finally gave up the fight and sat up. Then I noticed that the space between the once-thatched roof and the last rafter of the barn created a rustic frame around a single distant celestial diamond. I drank in the dank odor of damp hay mixed with the scent of live animals from the unswept dirt floor. I wondered if Mary’s barn smelled like this one. I thought of Jesus being born in a place like this! I wept in worship.
When the Omaraz team in East Africa started translating the Christmas story, they were stumped. Their cultural assumptions, just like mine before I slept in a barn, colored their perceptions.
They understood keeping livestock. Animals stayed in the fields and ate whatever they found there. Their language didn’t even have a word for “manger.” So they used a phrase that means, “a dish for a cow to eat from.” Imagine, Jesus — the King of Kings — had to sleep in something a cow might eat from! It made them worship.
This year, peek beneath the familiar trappings of Christmas and find the most amazing miracles wrapped in the mundane: stinky hay, a dirt floor and a manger stained by cows. Find the Savior in the middle of everything messy. It just may make you worship.