A Christmas Reflection
(Christmas 2001)

It was only a stable door; undistinguished: barely a distraction on a busy pathway. Hundreds walked past it every day. This door of gnarled wood had seen it all, rusted nails holding it together, concealing the stable contents from the view of passers-by. But it could not conceal the smells: animals about their business: not the sort of place the average person spent their idle time. Nor were the sounds extinguished. Muted and muffled, but not extinguished. The inquiring would have identified something different about its contents.

It was only a stable door. Its hinges had seen many changes of season, holding the door to protect the occupants; opening to visitors – usually who came with a purpose (for none casually entered here), and more recently to welcome a group of special strangers.
Street traffic had increased in recent days, many people coming to town for government business. New faces went past the door, some on their way to visit relatives not seen for some time; the opportunity to renew acquaintance afforded by this government edict too precious to pass up. Others pass on their way to the market: the important business of commerce still not able to be laid aside in this busy time. There were those making pilgrimage to the synagogue: not letting the break of routine interrupt their worship of God. They pass by this same stable door.

There is nothing about the setting which piques the curiosity. Whether it be the distraction brought through busyness, the focus of another task or purpose, or the revulsion of animal smells, there were few attracted to investigate. After all, it was only a stable door, and there were clearly more important matters to attend. It was only a stable door, but behind it, laid in a feed trough, was the most remarkable child ever born.
If only they’d opened the door.

If only they’d known that it is the ordinary which carries with it the greatest potential for momentous encounter. It is the very ordinariness which enables it to sneak up on us; our defenses are down: we are not looking, and so are enabled to see with greater freedom, not hindered by presupposition or prejudice. We are wont to look for the divine in grand cathedrals, in wondrous architecture, in inspirational music. We prefer to schedule our encounters with God to days or hours, seasons or celebrations. There is an order about our expectations of encountering God, which are not found behind the stable door, an order which closes Him out. The babe of Bethlehem was God revealed in the midst of a chaotic time, placed in the most ordinary of settings, reminding us of God’s presence in every part of life.

It was only a stable door.

Opportunity knocks: but not always. Sometimes it waits behind the door, ready to welcome the seeker, not hidden from those who would open the door. This day, there were those who did come to this stable door with a particular purpose. Summoned in unique ways, they passed through this door to behold what was concealed to others. Concealed not because it was deliberately hidden - for it was only crudely so – but concealed because most did not have the time or the inclination to search, let alone to see.

Shepherds came, opening the door in fear and trepidation, yet in eager expectation, in wonder at what they would find. Directed by an angelic host, they pushed their way across the tide of traffic to the stable door, and into the premises it guarded. They had already known what few had seen: an elaborate announcement of birth had been made to those who spent their hours looking at something most people overlook: the night sky. God had entered the midst, unbeknown to many.

’Tis truly amazing that something so beautiful, so awesome, so divine, can be concealed by an object as ordinary as a weather-beaten stable door. ’Tis even more wondrous that the Creator of the universe should choose to enter this world as a helpless baby.
Did others see this child and remain ignorant of his heritage? Were there those who saw merely an infant child, nursing at its mother’s breast? Why did the shepherds and wise men see, and so many not?

It is worthy of consideration that there were those who travelled past this stable door on the way to the synagogue to worship a Creator who had done something remarkable in their midst, and who returned home missing the greatest encounter of all. How many people walked past that scene oblivious to what was taking place behind that stable door? How many looked in with disdain and pity for a poor family housed in such a way? Few were those privileged enough to stop and encounter God in the middle of such ordinariness.

To be holy, a moment or place needs no special ornament or characteristic. ‘Tis the person who needs the stillness of heart and the sharpness of spirit to discern the presence of God. For every moment is a manger, cradling the opportunity to encounter God.

After all, it was only a stable door…

Gary Heard
December 2001

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