A stay in a barn unveils the Christmas story like never before.
Recently, Sarah and I got away to the Southern Highlands. The place we stayed was advertised as an architectural masterpiece. It was.
It was a barn made from huge recycled iron bark timbers. Worthy of a grand designs episode.
On the first evening, we had a barbecue. The barbecue was outside on a paved area made from carefully placed caste concrete pavers. Between the pavers was white gravel.
We cooked our meat then sat to eat it at a table of recycled timbers and in the dusk light we looked out at the garden.
The garden was achingly beautiful. Near us beyond a freshly clipped lawn stood Japanese maples. Beyond was a large pond – reeds, the burble of frogs. Into the pond extended a wooden jetty with a small upturned boat rest on the jetty.
From the far shore the land rose into a grove of established poplars with green lush running undergrowth. Each poplar was proportioned and seemed to us to be placed precisely with great care. To the left of the pond the slope rose again into thick sure pines. Birds flittered confidently among the boughs. The water of the pond was utterly still.
We sat and ate our steak quietly.
There was such a seclusion and beauty to this place that really the only appropriate response was one of silence.
We stayed there a couple of days. The more time I spent in the garden the more I began to wonder about it. Everything seemed to be in just the right place, the slope of the hill the grove of populars, the curve of the pond.
Looking at the trees I thought this has to have been at least 20 years of growth. Then I began to think about that. Sarah told me that she’d heard the pond was not natural, that someone had dug it and lined it.
And looking at the symmetry of the trees I began to wonder if they too had been planted.
As I considered that a whole new level of amazement hit me. How could someone have conceived of something so beautiful, so elegant, so just right and then had the patience to let it form over time, for the trees to thicken and rise, for the pond to settle, for the birds to come?
Then, of course, the natural question that my mind reached for was, Who? Who could have conceived of this and had the eye for beauty and the deep patience to see their creation through?
Meeting the designer
On the last morning of our stay, about 15 mins before we were to check out as we rushed to pack our bags I heard a voice calling cheerily from outside, You there? I went down to welcome them.
A lady dressed in jeans and a cardigan with patched elbows greeted me.
She had come to inform us that a load of gravel was being delivered this morning.
I asked her who she was. The owner, she replied.
You can imagine my next question.
Yes she said, her husband and her had built the garden.
You know, she said, when we started it was just a flat paddock.
The knolls and rises, the ponds, every leaf of vegetation had all been intentionally placed and planted. I was looking at 25 years of work. They’d built the barn too.
I was in awe. I stood looking at this woman. This woman has conceived of all this, patiently planting and building. Are you an architect? I asked. No a nurse, she’d said.
This is amazing, I said and offered my congratulations but really the best thing I felt I could do to thank her was to tell her how amazing our time in this sanctuary had been.
She was glad.
I went back inside to continue packing. A few minutes later carrying out the bags I saw a short stocky man in work clothes, with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.
I greeted him.
“You must be the gardener,” I said.
He smiled at me brightly. “No, I’m the owner.”
“Oh.” I apologised and again as I had his wife, thanked him profusely. He kept smiling as we chatted through how he’d shaped this and that.
I left stunned. And realised that God had just been speaking to me.
Because in this little experience of wonder, curiosity, and revelation was the Christmas story.
A Christmas story
We’ve all turned up at this garden called creation. We’ve witnessed sunsets and sunrises, dew on grass, glaciers, the smile of a dear friend, the cresting of a pure wave, the softness and clutch of a baby’s hand, the ink and blaze of a clear night sky and we have all sensed the design behind it all.
We’ve all in the stillness of our hearts asked, even if it’s been the quietest whisper, Who? Who made this?
The Christmas is that the designer and maker of this impossibly beautiful creation, came to our home and called cheerily, You there?
In the Christmas story, after many millennia the gardener and the owner finally came to his creation. Like me most people thought the man that looked like a gardener was just that. They, like me, didn’t realise that this little child, born in a manger, poor, to humble parents was the one who had placed each star in the cosmos, each tree, each nation, each tribe, each language, all of it and designed it just right.
At Christmas we get to stop, admit our wonder and our ignorance and stop and thank this most beautiful and intelligent one of All. Our Creator, come close in Jesus.
Andrew Starr, Christmas 2021