My friend Father James and I are each doing Christmas Eve services in the chapel at the hospital we service. We were talking about helping people understand the story. We started thinking about piping in barn smells.

I have a little nostalgia for the smell of a two-cow ramshackle barn like the one my grandfather had. The smell of hay, the smell of spilled milk, of manure. For all the memories of my grandfather, however, it’s not a smell that most people would walk into, even it if was for church, nor would we want the odorant molecules following us to our parties.

“Where have you been, a barn?” our hosts would ask, politely taking our coats away from the pile on their bed to the garage.

“It was a church thing,” we would say.

And some would ask us, “Why in the world would a Christmas eve service smell so horrid?”

And as we talked about the story of the birth of the Christ in a feed trough, and the life of Christ in crowds and shepherds and fish heads, and the beating of Christ in a blood and urine-soaked prison and the death of Christ at a killing field, perhaps they and we would begin to understand that the story of Jesus smells awful.

Except, of course, when the room full of the rich aroma of myrrh and frankincense. And when the perfume was spilled on Jesus’ feet. And when the calf was barbecued for the son who returned.

And as we think of the smells, smell the smells, the story moves off the page and the pageant and into real life.

Where, of course it actually was lived.