There was a time when people spent much more time outdoors. Life was agrarian, nomadic, or often migratory. The Native Americans in the Great Lakes region would spend the winters camping away from the big lakes. They might plant a few crops in the spring before heading north for a summer of pulling fish out of the St. Mary’s River. When they returned in the fall, with any luck, their meager garden plots would contribute to their survival through the cold months.
Even looking back at Western history, it seems few people would have spent an entire day indoors a hundred or two hundred years ago.
Go back two thousand years, and it’s no wonder you rarely hear much of Jesus sitting at a desk, writing sermons or healing the sick all day. He was the babe in the manger. The itinerant preacher who walked all over Galilee. As he himself said, foxes have holes, but the Son of Man…
In these here northern climates, we hole up for winter. It’s cold! But while Christmas is the season of giving (read: shopping) and all that, it’s also a time for some reflection. Nativity sets, Christmas pageants, and holiday cards dress first-century Palestine up in colorful flowing robes, with shepherds fresh pressed from their days and nights in the wilderness watching sheep, a warm lantern lighting the humble yet oh-so-cozy manger.
As I reflect, I want to put myself in that moment of history. It doesn’t smell like incense—I smell barn animals, sweat, and perhaps a hint of blood. The weather is likely cool, but not cold, and walls of the stable (if there were walls) do little more than keep animals in. An evening breeze flows right through the cracks. There may have only been a partial roof, which means the stars were bright in the sky above (not a lot of cloud cover in Palestine, typically). The picture we’ve drawn has this family hunkered in the stable, but it was days on the road before they arrived, and they certainly didn’t hang out all day around animals. At the very least, they had to leave while the stalls were shoveled out.
I guess what I am getting at is that Christmas, the part where we reflect, look back, celebrate offers us a real opportunity. If you want to try and “shake the box” a little. If you are looking for a way to really experience Christmas in a new light, go outside. Try to spend an entire day with your kids, outside. Maybe walk somewhere that’s kind of far. Few things will help you relate to Joseph and Mary than carrying a kid on your back for three miles. It may not have been this cold then, but being outdoors might help the family connect with the story in a different way.