I'm not planning on doing this often, but I wrote a part of the book today that was sort of fun, it being Christmas and all, and I wanted to share. So here is a snapshot from Snapshots of Who I Am. This is from Chapter 9, The Good Shepherd.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
While shepherds watched their flocks at night
It's Christmas time. I've spent the past few days strategically placing decorations around my apartment. There are Santa Clauses and nutcrackers, snowmen and angels smiling at me from every nook and cranny. There are candles and evergreen wreaths giving off their seasonal scents. And there are dishes filled with chocolates and gum drops, which I have to keep my husband and dogs from emptying on a daily basis! I love all of these decorations because they are filled with meaning, not only from my childhood traditions but as centuries-old celebratory symbols. Evergreens are verdant reflections of the eternal life that Jesus came to bring. The traditional Christmas color, red, reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed so that we could have eternal life. Sparkling ornaments and twinkling lights dazzle our minds into remembering the beautiful star over Bethlehem that announced the Messiah's birth to a band of Eastern kings. And the gifts we give are a token to the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the Christ child.
But it occurred to me earlier today that a particular group of characters from the Christmas story are absent from my seasonal decor. I've just been taking inventory and this is what I found: five Santas, four nutcrackers, three wreaths, a pair of angels, one snowman and a reindeer. I've got two mangers, one that's painted onto a plate, along with the words, “Unto us a child is born”, and a beautiful Buckley Moss print of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, surrounded by some very calm looking sheep. I confess that I don't have any kings on camel-back, but I do have gifts to wrap up for my loved ones and yesterday I seriously contemplated buying a bar of soap that was “frankincense and myrrh” scented. So St. Nick, Frosty, Rudolph, Mary, Joseph, the angels and the wise men all made the cut, so who is missing? Shepherds. I've got all this cute, sparkling, scented seasonal stuff and there's not a shepherd to be found.
I confess, I'm feeling a little guilty. Here I am about to write about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and I haven't got a single shepherd in my apartment, even though they played a really significant role in the story of Jesus' birth. Here's an excerpt from their Biblical cameo.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ... So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger...the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I do find it amusing that though the Heavenly Host found shepherds to be a worthy audience of the biggest news in world history, Christmas decoration manufacturers don't seem to find them worthy of playing a major role in our holiday décor. It's a whole lot easier to go out and find a cute Santa or sparkly star than a shepherd to put up on the mantle or hang from the tree. But I'm sort of thankful for this because it's an indication that even today shepherds are viewed in much the same regard as they were in Jesus' time. Dirty and smelly, they're just not the guys you want to have hanging around, especially when there are so many other attractive options.
But that is part of the beauty and truth about Jesus. He's not interested in being what is most attractive to the world, He's interested in being what is most needed. Maybe this is the reason that the Heavenly Host appeared to those trustworthy shepherds upon that midnight clear. If you go back and fill in some of the blanks from the Luke story, you find that after seeing baby Jesus nestled into that manger, the shepherds immediately went out and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17) It is the nature of the Good Shepherd to take every opportunity to gather His sheep together. Even while He was still wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was tending His flock by entrusting men whose lives were devoted to the care of other living things to spread the good news of great joy for all people. What a position of honor for those lowly shepherds. Maybe they aren't decking people's halls as Christmas decorations, but on that night they were donned with the Lord's favor. They might not have been the world's first-pick, but God considered them worthy. Perhaps because they were men after His own heart- men used to seeking and saving the lost. Men whose lives were devoted to tending to the weak and the wounded. Men who knew every one of their sheep- from the tiniest lamb to the oldest and most infirm ewe. Men who risked their own lives for the security of their sheep. .
It wasn't random coincidence that the angels appeared in that field that night. God planned perfectly every minute detail of Jesus' birth and recorded many of those details in prophecies written centuries before. He could have told someone with a lot more influence. Someone shinier, someone more attractive. But He chose the shepherds. He chose some of His own kind.
As I look around my apartment, I am maybe a little more embarrassed than I was when I started writing this. I'm not against Santa or Frosty or Rudolph. Angels are beautiful and evergreens are filled with fragrance and significance. But my identity depends on the Shepherd. Yours does too. And fortunately, it is He who will guide us. Like any good Shepherd, He will lead us as we explore this vantage point of our identity in Christ. And I'm confident that as He does so, we will discover good news that is sure to fill us with comfort and joy.