Mary gave birth to Christ in a stable, lying on a bed of hay.
Joseph brought his first born son, into the world, in a stable, surrounded by hay.
Christ was born in a stable, and placed in a feeding trough meant to hold hay.
No hospital, no midwife, no mother, no bed...just a young wife and her husband, surrounded by animals and their food.
Hay is not romantic, not by any stretch of the imagination. It's earthy. Animals eat it, it's chewed, digested and can be recognizably found in clumps of animal waste.
I recently transported 4 hay bales in my van. Across seats, on top of the seats and whatever else way I could make them fit, I did. Hay was everywhere. Hay covered the van floor, the seats, the cup holders, filled my bag, poked through my sweatshirt--inside and out. I found hay in my hair. I found hay in my shoes. I even found pieces of hay in my bra!
As I unloaded these hay bales into my back yard (by myself!), a trail of hay was left behind me. These were tightly corded, large rectangles of hay. As I lifted one, hay dust spun in the air around me. When I dropped the bale, it landed with a cloud of hay scattering across the ground.
Mary gave birth surrounded by hay. It must've been in her hair, poking through the blanket she may have been on, in her dress, between her legs. The swaddling she wrapped Jesus in must've had bits of hay stuck in it. Joseph must've had hay between his toes, in his sandals.
I knew Christ's birth was humble.
Next to cattle.
But the hay...
Stuck to everything...
Inside the deep dark places.
Where we can't see and can't imagine.
Animal food. Animal waste.
Showing up in bits and pieces, unexpectedly, days later.
Small pieces...long pieces.
How long did it take before all the hay washed out of her robe?
Out of Joseph's tunic?
Out of the babe's swaddling?
When Mary held Joseph's hand as she labored, was there a piece of hay between their fingers? Did she unknowingly, carry pieces of that hay with her when they fled? For the rest of her life, when Mary smelled hay, did it trigger memories of her labor?