Between the Rows: All Is Calm

Published online: Dec 23, 2021 Articles, Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appeared in the December 2015 issue of Potato Grower. 

Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, whatever family members I’ve been with have gathered around and read the Nativity story from the second chapter of Luke. Depending on how many cousins are available to play the primary roles, the story may be acted out as it’s read. It’s adorable and heartwarming and, honestly, feels pretty close to heaven.

The most beautiful thing about the Nativity—to me, anyway—isn’t so much the miraculousness preceding the Christ Child’s birth, though those parts of the story certainly ought not to be forgotten. No, the most beautiful thing to me is the realization that any one of us could, at some point, find ourselves in a position directly analogous to that of the shepherds, the wise men, or even the Holy Family. Regardless of your religious leanings, when taken solely as a human-interest story, the Nativity is indisputably touching.

As author Barbara Robinson put it, “It was about a new baby, and his mother and father who were in a lot of trouble—no money, no place to go, no doctor, nobody they knew. And then, arriving from the East (like my uncle from New Jersey), some rich friends.”

I’ve always felt a sort of kinship with the shepherds in the Nativity. Perhaps it’s because I grew up around livestock and agriculture and like to think God has a special place in his heart for folks of that ilk. Or maybe it’s because the shepherds are more or less anonymous and I like to pull for the underdog. Either way, I’ve always wondered why it was that, on that night of all nights, heaven saw fit to come to those particular people.

The adjective most commonly ascribed to the shepherds is “humble,” which in this case is generally meant to say that they were poor, browbeaten afterthoughts to society. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on the socioeconomic and sociological environment of first-century Judea, but I think that may be an unfair stereotype. Maybe the shepherds were destitute. But maybe, either through their own labors or the hard work and ingenuity of their fathers, they were partners in a highly profitable wool and mutton conglomerate that had a huge contract with the Roman army.

Rich or poor, it was these to shepherds the angel came and delivered the good tidings of great joy. Before anyone else on earth knew what had transpired that night in Bethlehem, it was these guys who were deemed fit to hear the news and who understood right away that the message was bigger than them and their jobs. So, I suppose that, whether the shepherds were mere vagabonds or powerful executives, “humble” likely is the right description to assign to them.

Having spent almost my entire life among America’s farmers and ranchers, I can say with a pure conscience that, rich or poor, monsoon or drought, stuck in the mud or humming along, these people—you people—are among the most humble in the world. The ability to acknowledge that, no matter your skill level or track record, your livelihood is at the mercy of Mother Nature, takes nothing if not humility. Hard, backbreaking, mind-bending, endless work is what brings about success in the farming game, and even that’s no guarantee. Ag folk know this, are unafraid to admit it, and exhibit the necessary faith every season, every day to make it work. Heaven does indeed smile down on the farmer, but the farmer works his tail off to earn it.

Humility doesn’t necessarily mean you lack anything, or that you shouldn’t enjoy the good things you do have. On the contrary, to be humble is to graciously acknowledge that what you have is not entirely the product of your own greatness. It is the willingness to, as those biblical shepherds did, set aside your own worldly pursuits for a while to take in what is most important.

So sit back in your recliner, stir your cocoa with a candy cane, and give your little girl an encouraging smile as, playing Mary, she timidly lays her Cabbage Patch Kid baby Jesus in an old potato crate. And as you finally settle into bed after three hours spent assembling a little pink bike, take a few moments to savor the peace and, yes, silence of the night.

Merry Christmas, everyone.