It seems an unlikely, but strangely right, place to spend the final hours of Christmas.
While the planet twinkles in the glow of trees circled with plates piled high in shortbread and fruitcake, stacks of unwrapped love, and perfectly imperfect family, our Christmas night has us far away from it all. Far away in a barn.
Sows grunt, piglets root and nuzzle udders for milky warm, and snow falls soundlessly out there in the dark. I am supposed to be feeding these hungry sows chopped corn, soybeans, but the sounds mesmerize me into still: were these the first sounds of earth that reverberated in His ear drums?
From the lofty, soaring arias of the heavenly host to this, this snorting of beasts, this banging of feed troughs?
And the smells: from the incense that wafted through the celestial heights, to this air hanging thick with dung’s rank, dust’s heavy itch?
I mean, He’s God. He could have chosen anywhere to be born. Hard to comprehend: God left kairos and entered into chronos through the means of a barn. Not to vaulted domes or marbled floors, but to a cob-webbed, manure reeking barn, a barn where most refined folk would not step foot in without changing clothes, without covering offended olfactory senses.
But, crazy relief, our God isn’t antiseptic, carefully avoiding dirt, grime, stink. Of all the magnificent places on this spinning orb , He intentionally decided to clothe himself as a naked baby and birth his virgin skin onto a mucking bed for animals.
God chose a barn as His entry point.
A place into which we would hesitate to even carry a babe through, let alone deliver a vulnerable newborn, the very Incarnation.
Funny how the lights celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, God with us, still illuminate this earth when we begin to prepare for a New Year, a new hope. A new us.
Standing here, slopping hogs, it seems so clear: The New Year only has hope because Christmas happened out in a dung heap.
These visions of a new year of excellence, dreams of accomplishments, pursuits of perfection? These all will prove barren “for human efforts accomplish nothing.”
In the mist of the squeal of piglets, I can hear the Barn Babe, “Apart from me, you can do nothing”?
Every year when we rip off the last calendar page and begin time with a clean slate, the Barn Babe is still new, stretching, waiting to grow up in us. He chooses our dirty places, our stinking places, the places that shame us, as His point of entry.
Good thing He doesn’t disdain the barnyards of my life: the foul attitudes, the beastly ways, the dirty sins I attempt to scrub clean—to no avail. He intimately knows the muck of my lives, the stench I try to mask.
The Christ Child enters our lives in the places where the flies buzz over refuse and dung and chooses.
Without the Babe who came to the barn, who didn’t hesitate to meet me in the rotting mess of my daily sin, the new year would only be a rehashing of the old year. The swaddled babe murmurs, “Behold, I ‘m making all things new.”
I take Farmer Husband’s hand and we walk out of the barn and into the chill of Christmas night and out towards the New Year. Black velvet heavens seem warm, close, nailed up there with shimmering stars. Christmas night and the world seems hushed; even the children, clumped in pairs, whisper through the halo of bright from the barnyard light.
I glance over at the sleeping orchard, winter white blanketing the feet of young trees. The New Year about to be birthed has the hope of good fruit because of what was birthed in the stink of the barn.
On the cusp of a New Year, I can feel it: the excitement of radical transformation, the possibility of real change.
My New Year’s may still smell of the Christmas barn.
Which is exactly why it has Hope.
Father? Thank you for New Year Hope because of the Barnyard Christmas Babe. Grow up in my messy places, Christ Child.
Q for U:
What mucky places in your life do you want Christ to come meet you this coming new year?
Photos and Text: Ann VoskampLeave a Comment
Kristen - Moms Sharpening Moms says
Your writing makes this forever work-in-progress girl want to cry quiet tears and dance a joyful jig all at once! Your writing tells what I wish I could say but can’t always express. You are beautiful. HE is beautiful through you.
I often feel knee-deep in the muck and the dirt! This year, one place I want Christ to meet me in is the area of good speech. I do not want my mouth to sin!
Praising Him for fresh starts and unlimited do-overs!
Ann, thank you for this beautifully written piece with its just-right images. You leave light on the page.
Wonderfully shared, inspiring, honest, heart felt post!! Love this…and the piggies, oh my goodness. Pigs hold a special place with me 🙂
I want Him to come into my life, and make it a force for him. Truly.
Southern Gal says
That touched me like nothing else I’ve read this season. Beautiful. And convicting.
There are many mucky places in my life. I will pray that God will bring them all to light, even those I’m trying to hide, and change them to heavenly places for Him to dwell.
Nancy Kourmoulis says
Ann – Your words, as always, move me. This year my prayer is for Jesus to come into the mucky place of family, where siblings rub up against one another, and bring His grace and glory. For the Spirit to spread His light into our hearts and transform. Thanks!
There are too many deep areas of need in my being to articulate in total. This would be a long comment and I’d still probably overlook a few!
An area of major struggle:
Hypoglycemia – my blood sugar goes wildly out of whack and I sin against my sweet children and husband through my irritation and yes, anger. I need Him to give me the strength to eat in a hypoglycemic friendly manner. I don’t ever, ever want Him to show me the damage I’ve done to loving children because I didn’t want to deal with this problem responsibly.
This was a lovely article Ann. What stalls are you seeking to have mucked out?
Nora Houtz says
Your metaphor of Christ’s “entry point” in a barn and the “entry point” of our hearts is so spot on. And to think He continues to live in me in spite of my ugliness (Even I don’t like to spend that much time with my self-centered thoughts:)What Joy it brings to my heart to realize; He chose the barn..He chose my heart.
And it’s changing…ever so slowly..but it’s changing!(Thank you for your help with that:)
2 Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Once a barn..now a shanty..tomorrow a mansion in heaven!
Thank you Ann,
I am always so grateful,
Oh to lay hold of the opportunity that we, being clothed by it and in it, would bring the barn into each and every moment. Into all the ending places and the beginnings. Into the less than straight trajectory of our pilgrimage home.
Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;
to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God…
Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech …
These words you bring, Ann … they bring the strong aroma of a peculiar person of God. I breathe deep … thankful.
The part that doesn’t want to practice hospitality because I don’t want to deal with the mess or snotty germs of other kids~~that is the part of me I most want cleaned up in my heart. Meet me here King Jesus.
Thanks Ann. I need to give God the dirt of impatience, anger and trying to be wise with my kids all on my own. God help me.
A Simple Country Girl says
…in the ones where He has pulled me up by my bootstraps and let me rest my head upon His lap. God whispered in my ear Christmas morning that it is my turn to gently guide others to His road of forgiveness.
Your words bring such Truth clarity to what bangs around in my head, heart, and soul.
A Simple Country Girl says
Here I am again, Ann. Your blog photos bring tear-tainted smiles.
Doug Spurling says
oh friend, words of grace and life that I need to hear today. i want him to invade the places of impatience, control, and the subtle resentment that brews when love given is not returned.
Jesus, heal me.
I continued to think about this question as the morning wore on and this is where my thoughts have roamed.
from my journal:
My sister in Messiah, Ann Voskamp, wrote an article wherein she asks the question, what dirty, filthy, fly covered piles of muck n grunk do we have in our barns that we need Yahshua (Hebrew for Jesus), God born in a barn, to cleanse for us?
This led me to ponder, how often do I hold my nose and slide my vision away from the uglystinkygrossmeoutmess. Why? Why do I plug my nose up and allow my vision to slide away?
1) I hate messes, especially wet, disgusting, odoriferous messes. I cannot abide by the feeling of slime on my hands or my shoes. Ann is a farmer girl, but I am not. After diapering 8 little ones, I learned somewhere along the way to cheerfully clean baby bottoms. But a stall full of goat and bovine waste is a different kettle of disgust altogether.
2) I am so afraid that the mess is even worse than it appears to be. We generally assume that if we shovel away the grunk, scrub and disinfect, we will end up with a lovely, clean stall. But I’ve noticed that there are times in this life, when I shovel and instead of finding a firm surface to scrub and disinfect, what I find are rotten, decaying boards.
This happened literally in our 25 year old chicken shed. It is so disheartening to me that no matter how much we clean that shed and lay in fresh shavings and hay, there are still mushy rotting boards beneath that we don’t currently have the resources to repair. What if I begin to shovel through the piles in my soul and find that the whole foundation is rotten?
Yahshua is to be the foundation. But what if I dig down and find that my foundation is rotting, decaying wood and stubble? Then, I am done because I have used all the resources that I know of to make Him the true foundation. But if I have failed, then I know not what else to do. I am not one who finds that assurance comes easily.
You may say, well get out there, roll up your sleeves and shovel. All could be sound and good. True my friend, but something may be amiss as well.
Can you see why it is so much easier to let the stuff build up?
3) And #3, as much as it shames me to admit it, is that a big part of the manure pile is bad, old-fashioned laziness. It takes my young, energetic, hardworking offspring a tough morning of labor to clean out our smallish barn. Looks like work. Smells like work. And I’d so rather read the news, putter around tossing on some laundry and sweep the living room floor than to get out in the stench and scrape and pitch. Because I have a strong streak of laziness to add to my other unlovely characteristics.
Am I the only one who suffers from these kind of problems I wonder? Am I uniquely squeamish, cowardly and lazy?
::Sigh:: Where does this leave me? With the clear knowledge that I need to take some deep breaths, roll up my sleeves, gather all of my not very impressive courage together and get out to that barn, calling on my Abba to strengthen me as He promises He will if our work is through Him and begin to muck out the stalls.
It is not mine to worry about whether the foundation needs new lumber. He is the author and finisher of my faith. It is mine to offer it all before Him. It is mine to bring it to Him in repentance. It is His to make the barn boards sturdy and tough.
Heavenly Father Yahweh (LORD), I pray that You will strengthen our hands and hearts to do our work heartily unto You, the pleasant tasks and the scary ones, all of it.
Thank you Ann, for inspiring and encouraging. Shalom!
Thank you for taking our eyes off the gleaming glitter of the dress up of Christmas and back to the bare basic of the barn where it began. I have heard that it was Bethlehem that provided many of the young male lambs to be driven to temple each year for sacrifice. That Bethlehem was known for this. So, where else for the Lamb of the World to be born? But among all the young lambs destined for slaughter and sacrifice. It takes my breath away just to see those words typed out.
Betsy Markman says
What dirty places in my life? How would I choose? There are so many!
Thank you for once again pointing us all to the beauty of our Hope in Him, despite the ugliness of our sin.
Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience says
Kind grace to listen to such hearts today.
To know I’m not alone in my own barn… and Jesus meets me in my mess.
I’ve some reeking attitudes that need mucking out — and oh, does it give me HOPE that Jesus doesn’t leave me alone to do this ugly soul work on my own! (Flesh can produce nothing… ) But He comes to give me help in my time of need…. help to speak gently, to be longsuffering and patient, to give thanks in all things.
New mercies every morning! Hope for fresh starts! God isn’t afraid to wade out into the yuckiness where I’m stuck!
Happy New Year because of Merry Christmas! 🙂
So grateful for this community of real hearts…
Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience says
Thank you, Beth, for sharing your tender, transparent heart… God uses you to teach me much. Yes, Abba wants to meets us in the barn — and He’s with us. There’s nothing to fear. You are not alone, Beth — we are all in our own barns, out there with Jesus. You are loved…
And yes, Betsy — you expressed it perfectly: He is the Beauty in our ugliness… who isn’t repulsed by our ugliness, but tenderly stays with us to make us beautiful — a reflection of Himself.
Somedays I feel so soul-ugly — words I wished I had never said, attitudes that weren’t godly— and to know that the Christ Child meets me in those places, will grow up in me, in my sin stench, so I can be like Him?
Oh, that is Grace and Hope and yes, *happy* new year!
Faith Barista Bonnie says
“These visions of a new year of excellence, dreams of accomplishments, pursuits of perfection? These all will prove barren
“He chooses our dirty places, our stinking places, the places that shame us, as His point of entry.” …. “The Christ Child enters our lives in the places where the flies buzz over refuse and dung and chooses.” He chooses… Oh, He does! And He loves us. “Why? I wonder. Most often, the answer is silence. He desires to come into those places of my dirt, stink, grime, shame … into those places where He will love and love some more until the muck is faced by me, dealt with and shoveled out by me and He.
LORD, for this new year, please meet me in my weariness of caregiving, in the struggles of watching my 95 year old mother’s mind being incrementally dissolved, in the depression I feel more often than not, in the reclusiveness in which I would rather live, and words I wish I had not said. LORD, please enter into those murky mucks and cleanse me from the inside-out. I am so blessed to have You always near and I am so sorry when I push You away by trying to do things myself. Take that selfishness away too, that I may serve only You. Amen.
I am thankful too, Ann, that He not only comes to me in the filthiness of my sins, but that He comes over and over again to those same places of my failing. Oh, that besetting sin, the one I must confess over and over again – and there is grace enough. Thanks seems too small a word. The difference He makes in our hoping, is His ability to do all things in and through us. What hope!
Amy Lu says
Which messy place?
The source of all messiness ~ my heart.
I pray he mucks out every nook and cranny, the back closet, and under the stairs. The cobwebs in the corner and even the grime on top of the door’s molding….
A constant spring-cleaning. If I only allow Him.
Thank you, Ann without an ‘e’, for always pointing up!
It is funny how we all look at things differently.
I grew up on farms too and I have never thought of the barn as a dirty place. I loved the barns Ann, yes even the pig ones…. When we were first married we often helped my inlaws with their pigs and I preferred barn work to house work anyday! Cleaning pens was good work, I could see the difference I made.
Not that I wanted barn mess in the house but barn muck in its place was never yucky to me… (and yes, I always washed when we were done:)
So I never thought of the barn as a gross place for Jesus to be born. It was a friendly, warm place with clean hay and straw and gentle animal noises -new births and sucking babies.
Scared animals just needed kindness, hungry screaming animals needed food, pushy cows, swollen with milk, wanted to get the job done…
Barn smells were good smells to me, much preferable to air freshners, perfume, cleaning products, scented candles- these are as repulsive to me as barn smells are to most people.
I envy you that you have barns in your life.
I think of the barn as a place where God is, a welcoming place, where I am safe.
Still I get what you mean about the mucky places that God is cleaning up in me. Currently He has been doing a big remodeling- healing, washing, repairing, replacing damages that happened when I was a child, challenging me to replace unhealthy coping methods with repentence, resting in Him, seeking Him, trusting Him, It is hard work, it hurts but it is Good.
Like you said, He gets His Hands in our dirt and turns it into something beautiful for Him.
shabby girl says
What a beautiful post! And very thought provoking. I loved the line about Christ choosing our lowest, dirtiest times to enter into our lives. That was wonderful. It makes Him just that much more accessible, doesn’t it?
Thanks Ann for pointing out the stench of sin with the reminder of the fragrance of Christ. I appreciate the comments of others here too – very helpful.
The mucky place in my life I need Christ to come meet me and radically transform is my places of escape and coping with pain, fear, and stress or difficulty. I need to respond rightly to these things – not with indulgence/ escape with food, spending, pleasing myself – but instead to find contentment/ peace in Christ. Especially in behaving rightly with food. Need answers in how to care for my body/ mind/ emotions according to Gods will.
come, Lord Jesus…scrub out this grimy heart…my selfish attitudes, thoughts, words….this self-pity…this slothfulness…
you, Lord, in whom all things are made new, grow me in You this new year. be my all-in-all.
thank you, ann.
love to you, precious heart,
I love it! I’ll be re-reading this more than once. Thanks Ann for sharing His heart through you.
I’m imagining the smells and sounds of the barn He would’ve greeted as a babe. Amazed at the humbleness of it all. May HE birth it in my life too! Thanks again Ann, I just love how uniquely God gifted you to write.
Ann I enjoy your writing. I remember reading something about you singing the “Count your blessings” song. I keep that image with me. I have 1 stepson and we started to home school this year. It has been a rough road, laying bare the dirty spots in us both. So my prayer, though late is for Jesus to clean out every angry corner in my heart and hang Peace on the mantle of my soul.
lol a couple of the reviews bloggers write are just silly and unrelated, sometimes i wonder whether they at all read the post before writing or whether they merely look at the subject of the post and write the very first thought that comes to their minds. But it is nice to find a fresh commentary every now and then in contrast to the exact same, traditional blog garbage which I oftentimes notice on the blogs. Cheers