Dec. 8, 2011
Luke 2:4-7
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Andrew Peterson wrote a Christmas song called “Labor of Love.” Here are the words:
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town.
And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestons were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold.
It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart,
It was a labor of love.
Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands a nd weary eyes
There wer no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night.
So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move.
It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart,
It was a labor of love.
When I first heard this song a couple years ago, it captured me. A labor of love. Wow.
When I went into the ministry, I served as a student pastor for two small, rural congregations. They were very gracious to me. I wasn’t really sure just what I was always supposed to be doing or how to minister to them spiritually. They helped me learn and was tolerant of my mistakes and shortcomings.
A year or two before I began serving them, they had began a tradition. They recreated the nativity story in Gene & Dorothy Barber’s barn. One of the ladies had put together a script, based on the biblical accounts of Christ’s birth. Another woman sewed together beautiful costumes with hats fit for a real king. The unused hay loft in Barber’s barn was turned into a small theatre. Straw bales became the seats. The east end of the barn became a crude stage. Ameatuer lights were hung from the rafters.
With a elementary speaker system, narrators recited the nativity story while actors portrayed the scenes. Mary and Joseph went to the innkeeper with a real donkey. Sheep baaed during the production. The production was portrayed after it was dark in the natural elements. This was a situation when more bodies in the inn was a good thing! Afterwards, everyone warmed up at the local town hall with bowls of steaming chili and hot coffee and lots and lots of Christmas cookies.
This will be the 12th year I will be involved in putting together a “Live Nativity” production. When we moved to the Midland UMC, Rick and I knew the perfect site. A barn just down the road from the church that happened to be owned by a church member would be the ideal spot forMidland’s “Live Nativity.” Like the Barber’s barn,Cal’s hayloft barn is mostly unused – except for one night a year when it becomes our local version of Bethlehem.
For me, the “Live Nativity” isMidland’s labor of love: our re-creation of the birth of Christ offered as a gift to the community. Yep, there are years the barn has been down-right cold. Cast and crew use hand warmers in their gloves and in their boots to keep our extremities warm. Costumes are big enough to go over King Herod’s real-life hunting gear. Angel halos glimmer above pink polertec hats. While we have real sheep, a few ofMidland’s youngest folks become the sheep that are actually with the shepherds when Gabriel surprises their quiet night. These little sheep have sometimes literally rolled around in the straw before the production began and their little white costumes are as covered with straw as the real sheep stationed in pens just off to the side from the stage. A few years, we’ve had a real baby Jesus; sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl.
For many of the cast and crew, our retelling of the nativity in the barn is as close as we’ll ever get to the events that happened in Bethlehem that first Christmas night. One man told me a few years ago that when we host the “Live Nativity,” for him, this is Christmas. It doesn’t get any more real for him than this.
One year when the production was at the Barber’s barn, afterwards we were done with the story, a grandma and her grandson came up to me. The boy was about 4-years-old. He was carrying a wrapped present. Grandma explained to me that when she told her grandson that they were going to a barn to watch how baby Jesus was born, her grandson insisted on bringing a present for baby Jesus. “After all, that’s what the wise men did. So here’s our gift for baby Jesus,” she said. I was touched beyond words. After I was home, I couldn’t help myself. I had to see what a 4-year-old would give baby Jesus. I carefully removed the wrapping paper and uncovered a helicopter. I turned the propellers and though how funny it was the Jesus traveled toBethlehemon a donkey. And now, he’s been given a new form of transportation. I carefully reapplied the wrapping paper and took the gift to the local giving tree. Some little boy got a helicopter that year that really was intended for baby Jesus.
What is the one event during the Advent and Christmas season that exemplifies the true meaning of the season for you? For many, it might be Christmas Eve worship. Maybe it’s driving by a staged nativity scene. For someone else, it might be attending a production of “The Messiah.” If you don’t really have such a tradition, begin one this Christmas. Invite someone to go with you who you might not otherwise do so. Together, discover a local labor of love production that gets right down to the real reason of the season.
If you’re within driving distance of Midland UMC, I invite you to our “Live Nativity.” It is this Sunday night, Dec. 11, at 5 PM. Please arrive at the church (10235 Hwy KP, Mazomanie) by 4:45 PM. You can park at the church and we’ll provide transportation down to the barn. Afterwards, we’ll fill our chilled bodies with bowls of steaming chili back at the church. And you won’t find better Christmas cookies and bars in the county. Oh, dress warm. The barn isn’t heated. Bring a blanket to cover the straw bale seats. And be prepared to be transported back to Bethlehem as we remember Mary’s labor of love for the world.
Dear God: We sing, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” May we find a labor of love where we can recall, observe and, remember Mary’s labor of love and your wondrous gift this Advent. Amen.  
Blessings –
If you aren’t familiar with “Labor of Love,” go to and you can listen to this song.



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