The scholars and priests who represent Christianity in the media are rarely its best examples. The most famous examples of the faith in history were usually humble men and women close to nature–St. Benedict who created self-sufficient farming communities in the 6th century, St. Francis who sang of the elements of nature as our brothers and sisters in the 13th century, Mother Theresa who served the poor with her own hands in the 20th century. Jesus himself taught us to look for for God in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and taught with parables understood well by farmers and gardeners. Though my intellectual gifts and opportunities allowed me to make a living through academic work, I was raised in a working class family, surrounded by working class people. My father’s family was farmers and mechanics, my mother’s family owned the town junk and scrap yards, and I know the working people I grew up with are not what the scholars I worked with pretend they are. I have made my living as a “scholar” in teaching and publishing, but I have spent as little time as possible in that world, even when I could have made much more money than I did. I like to be outside in my farm clothes, dirty and sweaty and sometimes I wonder whether or not I’m wrong for avoiding the life that others seem to be so zealous for, especially when success there comes rather easily for me. It’s always encouraging to see the Christmas message drawing our attention to country life.
The Christmas story encourages me that God is not concerned with helping us find success in the academic or corporate world, but seems Himself to prefer the country life as we do. The saying “Man made the city but God made the country.” appears to be true at Christmas. While God left prophets and kings to learn of Christ’s birth by studying ancient prophecies and following stars, He chose to reveal the news directly and perfectly, by the message of an angel, to shepherds who were taking care of their sheep. When looking for a man to serve as Jesus’ foster father, He chose a carpenter. When looking for a disciple to become the head of the Church, he was satisfied with a fisherman–who was content to remain so.
It’s helpful to bring the birth of Jesus into modern context. He was born where we live–out in the country, away from the cities and highways. He was born on the floor of a barn, in some fresh bedding, as our calves and lambs are born. He was wrapped in a blanket and laid in a feed trough, which was probably licked clean by an ox or some sheep earlier that day. He was greeted by the shepherds who came in from fields with dirty hands and clothes. What a beautiful scene.
The Virgin Mary recognized God’s kindness to the humble when she learned that she would be the mother of the Savior. She sang,
“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
Jesus was called Emmanuel, which means “God is with Us” and this is what that means. God, the creator of the world, is content to dwell among those who care for His creatures. We should not be ashamed of humble work or conditions of life because the King of the universe is at home in a barn with livestock and shepherds.
With that in mind, I recommend you to listen to the Christmas readings at Church and focus on the simplicity of it all. Take a deep breath and put everything in perspective. Our daily weariness should not overwhelm us or keep us from the joy of Christmas and the Christian life in general. The shepherds had no retirement savings or health insurance, but they went home rejoicing on Christmas day. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and the people God personally invited to welcome Him that day were country people like us. I think that’s pretty cool.
Michael Family Farm