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The Keeper of the Barn, Preparing for Advent

Advent is just one week away. I never fail to be caught off guard by Advent. Last week, when we were praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary I found a new little friend. First of all the Joyful Mysteries are always the most mysterious of the mysteries—Mary being joyful during these really difficult and (would have been to me) scary times (like giving birth in a barn). Anyway, while we were on the third mystery, the nativity, I was looking around the barn in my mind and for the first time I saw a new character come to the front of the scene.

When reflecting on the nativity I usually like to think about the kind stranger, maybe the inn-keeper’s wife, who was there for Mary; helping her with the baby, showing her how to nurse, and fluffing up the hay around Mary’s sweet, young head. But this time, as I thought about the smells and sounds of the barn, I realized there was another unsung hero. Perhaps he was not present at the time of the birth, but he was an important figure nonetheless. I am sure Mary’s smile rested on him the next day as she smelt her baby’s head and recognized him as the one who made the whole experience of having a baby in a barn less, well, gross.

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Maybe he was a boy, maybe a man, most likely he was somewhere in between the two. Every day he showed up to feed the animals, care for them, take them to pasture, and clean up after their evening mess. The innkeeper had his hands more than full with all of the travelers and no one was checking in on the work over at the barn. The boy could have quickly gone through his chores each day, leaving mess for the next day, smelly hay in the corner, feces in the stalls, and tools laying about. But he didn’t. At least, I believe he didn’t. His job was to care for animals and a barn. Maybe he was hired by the busy innkeepers, maybe he was their son, but I would be willing to bet an imaginary sum that he took care of that barn well.

When Mary and Joseph knocked on the inn door, exhausted, and dusty, and about to bring a new life into the world, the kind innkeepers’ mind must have raced while he tried to think how to help this young couple who were so much in need. How his heart must have given a sigh of relief when he thought about the stable and the pride with which it was cared for.

Although he had not had a moment to go out there for days, he knew it would be swept clear of any filth, there would be clean, sweet smelling hay in the corner, and any leaks in the roof would have been mended weeks ago when they hired the boy. It would be warm and safe, and the cleanest place in the city because he knew for a fact that every room in town was occupied for the census. He called for his wife and she took it from there, leaving the inn work to their daughter or another hired hand. But the stable boy cleared the way. He was the one who prepared the birthplace of our Lord.

Sometimes all we have to offer the Lord when He comes knocking is a barn. We don’t have the clean heart we wish we had. We don’t have the time or the energy we think it takes to serve Him. We don’t have room. It never feels like enough to offer Him but all He needs is a little corner in our barn. In our well kept, doing the best job we can, barn, and maybe a little smile to go with it.

I want to be like the stable boy. I want my barn to be ready. It’s still a barn. It is still going to have its smells and flaws and inconveniences. I don’t have a pretty, well decorated room for Jesus to be born in this Christmas. I have a barn. But He is okay with that. I want to spend my Advent fixing any leaks, sweeping out the debris, and preparing the birthplace of our Lord this Christmas when He is born in our homes and in our hearts.

Here are some simple things we can do together to prepare our barns:

Say the Rosary. I know it can be boring and monotonous, but it is that way because it frees our minds to reflect on Jesus’ life and then to apply the lessons learned to our own lives.

Read a book. Maybe try, The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander. Or The Hidden Power of Kindness by Lawrence G. Lovasik. Both are fantastic and give you plenty to work with this Advent. Just fifteen minutes of spiritual reading a day will do wonders for our barns.

What part of your barn is neglected? Does your heart need a good cleaning? Is your mind cluttered with worry? Does your house or your fridge have a mysterious smell you have been trying to ignore? Start small. Remember, we are cleaning out our barns. They are not going to be perfect, but they will be offered with love.

Pray for the courage to let go of your desire to build a palace (your perfectionism) and be content to sweep your barn. Do what you can well and let go of everything else. The everything else can feel necessary, but your peace and joy is more important than the everything else.

Sing. Just sing more. Tis the season and singing makes everything happier. In other words. Loosen up.

Do what you can and do it well.

Peace and Joy,

Jenny

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