It happened two nights ago. I was sitting comfortably on the sofa reading and I glanced up at the little Nativity scene on the mantelpiece. Over the years I have looked at it hundreds of times but this time it was different. This time I saw a refugee family. I closed my book and thought about what this meant.
As I sat there I thought about the hundreds of thousands of families living in refugee camps, others camped out, near a border crossing, with only a tarpaulin over their heads , and some huddled in what is left of a bombed out building waiting for the dawn and the gunshots and the bombing to start again. And there are babies being born to some of these families. Babies being born as I write this. Babies born to mothers who had hoped for a joyful home birth. Babies born to families in despair.
And what of my Nativity family? This mother surely had hoped for a very different birth, not in a stable and not so far away from her home. Why were they in a stable? I knew this was a Jewish family, living in a country occupied by the Romans. The Romans who spoke a different language and practiced a different religion. The Romans who were the Super Power of the era ruling an empire that stretched far and wide.
This Nativity family would not have been high up in the pecking order of the Roman rule. If they were told to move they would have to move. If they were threatened and had to flee to safety they would have to flee.
And what of the stable? In those days there would have been horses and donkeys in the stable. Before cars, before heavy goods vehicles ,before agriculture combines horses and donkeys did all the work. Those animals were valuable. A family would have relied on them to make living. So I believe that , as a valuable commodity, they would have been stabled in a reasonably clean and safe shelter.
Have you ever been to a stable at night? I have. It is a very calm and peaceful place. There is just the sound of the horses munching on their hay. If it is cold outside the stable is a bit warmer inside with the heat from the animals.
Several years ago I was talking with a farrier as he worked on shoeing a small chestnut horse who had a big white blaze running down the middle of his face. The farrier told me that he used to work for a big corporation in the city and went to work every day, in a suit, to an office building downtown. One day he decided he’d had enough. He left the job, he retrained and now he was shoeing horses. “I have no regrets,” he said. ” Everyday I get to come to work and see a friendly face like this.” He gestured to the chestnut with the white blaze. He patted the horse and said:” What could be better?”
The family in the Nativity would have had animals all around them who would have known that a new life was beginning. Animals understand that. The baby and the parents would have had a group of friendly faces around them.
In the time I have been writing this post and in the time you have been reading it more babies have been born. Born to the refugee families in camps, under tarpaulins and in bombed out buildings. There will be no friendly faces there.
Here is my wish for those families and their new babies. May there be Peace and Hope and in the future may they discover Joy.