Well, once again time has seemed to move at warp speed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I mentioned this last week when I stopped to see my wife at the school she works at. The high school student helping her responded that she thought Christmas was earlier this year. At first I giggled and reminded her that Christmas is always on December 25th but then it occurred to me that maybe she was on to something. I bet if we take a closer look December 5th through the 12th were eliminated from this year’s calendar.
I admit it, I love Christmas. I listen to Christmas music constantly, enjoy looking at lights, relish sitting by the fire in front of our Christmas tree, but my most cherished Christmas item is my nativity set. The nativity set is one my mother made; she was an artist and specialized in hand carved, clay nativity sets. She gave them out as wedding presents and it gives me great joy and comfort to see them in my friend’s homes this time of the year.
My affinity for nativity scenes goes even deeper than fond memories of my mother. My greatest joy during this time of the year is to hear the Christmas story. Each year, when I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the commercial Christmas season I take time to read or listen to the original Christmas story and it gives me a deeper sense of calm. It reminds me that there is a deeper more spiritual meaning to Christmas.
Maybe it was all those years of being in our church’s Christmas program and actually being part of that nativity scene but I often think about what it would be like to be right there in the stable. Often when I do this I see myself as a shepherd (I know what a big stretch). I can place myself right there in their camp the evening the angel appeared.
I picture them sitting around the campfire talking about wolves they had seen, lame sheep that needed doctoring, where the grass was the best. They were probably making plans for what needed to be done the next day and who would do it. In my mind they are relaxing in camp, enjoying their evening meal and maybe even giving each other a hard time. Then suddenly it all changed.
A bright light appeared and an angel was in the midst of the bright light. That would certainly get your attention. I would guess that they were overwhelmed, shocked and scared. Then the angel spoke and told them of the birth of Jesus and where they could find him.
Upon hearing this they immediately gathered themselves up and left for Bethlehem. Now this was no small undertaking. Any of us involved in animal agriculture know that to leave your animals for any amount of time takes a lot of work and planning, but I think they just got up and left. This was also a huge act of faith on their part. Those sheep were all they had in the world and they left them susecptible to predators both four and two legged.
They made their way in to see the new King. They didn’t bring the lavish gifts that we are told the Magi brought Jesus. However, they also did not tip off Herrod by asking directions either. The sheepherders knew exactly where to go to find this newborn King. I know that their simple presence of my fellow sheep producers was just as appreciated as the grand entrance of the wealthy and learned wise men. I think the fact that the nativity scene contains both groups is something we can all learn from.
I am proud to be associated with the shepherds in the Christmas story. I am comforted by the idea that some of the farmers and ranchers of that day were among the very first God invited to meet his son. This Christmas Eve as I check my own flock of sheep I will look at the night sky and think of my fellow sheepherders standing over that manger in Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Then and only then, will I understand the true meaning of Christmas.