I was thinking about our Nativity Scene. (Which is still in a box...I'm getting there, don't judge me!) And I started thinking about the fact that Jesus was laid in a manger.
Many people already know that a manger is a food trough for animals, and that really isn't big news to most people. When we went to Bronson Park for the big Christmas Light Festivities, the Nativity Scene floor was covered with straw. One little girl was looking intently at a camel, picked up a handful of straw and tried to feed the camel. "He's gonna eat this hay." She told her mom. Some friends of ours were also there, and we got into a lively conversation with this city girl ( and my beloved Sister-in-law) about the difference between straw and hay. Johnny pointed out that a camel (or any animal for that matter) would be hard pressed to eat straw. It's good enough for bedding, and to poo in, but not really for eating. Now hay, on the other hand, they'd love. Since this substance is not green and grass-smelling, it's clearly not hay. Camels, sheep, the cow, pretty much none of those animals would not eat the straw, but definitely the hay.
These are the moments that separate the farm kids from the city folk.
I'm proud my kids know the difference. Especially when viewing a life size model of the nativity scene, and wondering why they would lay our newborn Lord and Savior in a feed box full of poky straw. Truth is, they wouldn't! The feed box would be filled with sweet, soft hay. It would be green and dry, but it would smell like fresh grass when you get your nose really close to it. It would probably have some dried blooms in it, if it were alfalfa hay. It would be the food that the farmer wanted to keep up off the floor, where it would stay nice and clean. (Why else would he bother with a feed-box?) Farmers care about their animals, and this farmer was allowing this transient family to bed down with his in his freshly mucked stable. It really was a nice thing to do.
So anyway, back to little baby Jesus in the soft hay. It occurred to me that this is not a normal place to put your baby, but given the circumstances, it was kind of like God's little hidden irony.
"I am the Bread of Life," Jesus said. "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no life within you." (Paraphrasing John 6.) Jesus said, "I am your food. You are my sheep." (Swagerized version.)
How absolutely appropriate that God would deliver him to a sheep's feed box. He IS our food. We ARE his sheep. He is the kind of food you don't just throw around the pen and let the chickens scratch at. He's the kind of food you put in a feed trough, up off the ground, where it will stay dry and fresh. Food treated with respect and reverence, because it's the good stuff. This pricey food grows sheep that are strong and able to follow their shepherd's voice through darkness, and storms, and wind and rain.
I consider myself blessed to visit the house of my Savior each week to feast from the manger. I replenish the life within me at the table of our Lord. I can't live without this food any more than the sheep in Bethlehem could.
I wish you clean straw to sleep on, and the good food from our Shepherd to eat.