Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Buck Mountain, Christmas Morning 2002
Dear Friends,
After a long hard day traveling back from a visit with my parents, I find myself too tired to write anything new, so I offer you this by way of a Christmas greeting, written several years ago, on another Christmas eve here on our hillside farm:

It is a cold, clear night here in the Valley. Orion is rising in the
southwest over the new barn, bright in a moonless sky. The sheep flock is
quiet inside. I was tempted, briefly, to walk down at midnight to see if any
of the animals would talk, as the old tale says they do on Christmas eve. It
is very cold though, and the house is warm and quiet. It is lambing time for
part of the flock. There are now at least two dozen newborns in the barn,
small high cries mixing with the deeper voices of their mothers when we go
down to feed. A newcomer myself to this rural life, I am surprised to
realize that a manger is no longer something in a Nativity scene on a lawn
or found in miniature on a table, but a fixture I toss hay into daily. As we
fed today I recalled an Orthodox hymn, sung in preparation for the feast of
the Nativity, that compares Mary to a ewe lamb, like those we have in our
own barn: "Make ready, O cave for the Ewe Lamb comes, bearing Christ in her
womb. And do thou, O manger, accept Him who by his word has loosed us
dwellers on the earth from acts that are against reason. Ye shepherds
abiding in the fields, bear witness to the fearful wonder. And ye, Magi from
Persia, offer to the King gold, frankincense and myrrh: for the Lord has
appeared from a Virgin Mother." I look over the barnyard and, with the words
of the hymn in my mind, see our own nativity scene. There are some
differences though. If I were to go to the barn now, there would be no Magi.
My two sons, though they grow smarter by the day, are not yet wise men and
their father would be a poor third if they were. If there have been angels,
we have entertained them unaware, as the apostle says in Hebrews, in their
guise as strangers and guests. So, our home-grown nativity scene is
incomplete. We do, though, have a camel of sorts, for color, who can double
as the census taker in Luke's Gospel. Caesar, on our farm, is the name of a
guardian llama who sticks his head through the barn door at night and looks
over the new lambs. He appears to be counting, or at least conducting an
imperial inspection. Thinking of all this reminds me of a poem by Wendell
Berry, which, now that I look at it again, says it all better than I could.
Here is part of it:

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night's end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning's light, the air
around them joyful as a choir.
(From: A Timbered Choir; The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997)

Since I can put it no better than that, I will only add, Merry Christmas.
Christ is born, Glorify Him!