The Value of Dirt in December

December is a dance.

A dance not unlike that of the famed sugar plum fairy…

but notably more comical. We imagine, like that dancing fairy on stage, that in this Christmas season we’ll be treating our loved ones to an inspiring display of light-strewn beauty, fresh wonder, and festive music and costume. It’s Christmas, after all.

But for those of us who don’t live inside The Nutcracker Ballet, our Christmas story looks, less rehearsed. Picture it with me: we rush across a beautifully set stage in a frantic dash from one prop to the next, donning a tiara and snow boots, waving a list in one hand and a nutcracker in the other, as our sleepy-eyed supporting cast trips to keep up and chass in time with the notes that the Trans Siberian Orchestra is blaring on our car speakers. Sound about right?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

And we do it all because it’s in these 25 days that Americans are granted a reprieve from the prevailing Western preoccupations to attempt to consider the significance of a holy event. We get permission to celebrate the season by taking up a new set of preoccupations and calling it the spirit of Christmas.

Among the more worthwhile ideas we dabble with during these prescriptive 25 days are the joy of giving (but at a discount), the practice of silent nights (on the ride home after a tense family dinner), and the hope for solidarity with our fellow man (whom we mostly despise in holiday traffic).

It’s all a bit of a mixture of the sacred and the profane.

Pictured above: Faith and Jodi pieced together this puzzle of the quaint Christmas of our imagination

And we might stop to think a little longer about the little town of Bethlehem and what really happened there. Because we named our farm after that conspicuous piece of history, we can’t help but linger in that little town this time of year. Bethlehem: the place of the birth of the Messiah, to an unmarried first-time mom who was probably still a teenager and a fiancé carrying the responsibility to provide with very little real life experience.

Glory and scandal have both been part of the Christmas story from its origin, so our present-day mixture is not all that surprising. Can I recite every word of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer right before singing Breath of Heaven through heartfelt tears?

Yes. Yes I can.

I’m a child of the 90s, and I’m not afraid to confess that Breath of Heaven is still one of my favorite Christmas songs. And there’s a verse in that song that I’ve been pondering during my allotted 25 days of reflection.

Do you wonder as you watch my face if a wiser one should have had my place?

It’s possible that Mary wondered in her more vulnerable moments: I’m not sure I’m qualified for this. And if we’re being honest, she wasn’t. Mary was a bit of a mixture too.

Pictured above: Our star over Bethlehem Farm

Willing, but inexperienced.

Favored, but young.

Faithful, but fallible.

I rather doubt that Mary and Joseph were perfect parents. In their undiluted humanity, they were subject to the same weaknesses, temptations, and mistake-making as anyone.

We get a peek into some of those dynamics when Jesus went missing when the family visited Jerusalem when he was 12. Miles down the road out of town, it’s suddenly discovered that Jesus is not among their company and they rush back to the city frantically searching for him. Mary reveals her fear, impatience, and frustration when she finds Jesus in the temple and scolds him as the cause of her trouble.

Yet despite Mary’s imperfection despite her humanity God still entrusted His own Son to her care. And it makes me stop and consider.

If God was okay with Mary’s mixture, might He also be okay with mine?

Pictured above: What we cut out of the photo for our post on Instagram

We are taking great courage from this possibility, and particularly for our farm and chosen vocation. Our farm is so very flawed in so many ways. In this year-end in particular, we are feeling the sting of our inefficiencies and the true costs of a startup business.

The picture above reveals what you see when you take a few steps back from the Instagram presentation of the star over Bethlehem Farm

  • A barn of many colors (the other two sides are red steel and weathered wood)
  • That hidden pile of manure under the snow waiting to be spread on the field
  • A half-finished chicken coop
  • A pile of scrap lumber awaiting the removal of countless nails
  • Equipment brought home from the field that we didn’t have time to put away

These broken things may seem trifling, and in truth, they are more annoying than legitimately problematic. But this is just a picture of the outside. The inside (I think you know what I mean by that) is similarly messy. I imagine a snapshot of your story would probably look similar.

But apparently, it’s okay.

Because this is the hope of Christmas: it’s not going to be this way forever. Jesus’ birth makes it possible for us to participate in the hope of a future mending of all the broken things. His birth, while miraculous and glorious, is not the end of the story. There’s more to come.

In the meantime, we look at Mary and remember: our mixture doesn’t disqualify us from taking part in God’s story. Our lives don’t have to be spotless. Mary’s wasn’t. The barn where Jesus was born wasn’t. Things are broken now … but God can work with that. If we can take a cue about the nature of God by observing His actions the sending of His Son into a barn, in the little town of Bethlehem, to a pair of unseasoned teenagers then we might conclude that He is okay with dirt.

Dirt is actually what He started with when He fashioned our earliest ancestor.

So in the words of Mary’s Song (for our fellow Amy Grant fans), we also pray.

But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan

Merry Christmas from our little farm called Bethlehem.

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