Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Down and Dirty

A stained glass window at Lindsborg's Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church
Light filters through the jewel-toned glass, casting colorful shadows on the walls, floors and pew cushions. Light makes the scene come to life, as the angel hovers over the shepherds and tells them the Good News: 
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
 Luke 2: 8-14
I have heard those words every Christmas season for my entire life. I've been in many churches where the scene with angels and shepherds is beautifully depicted in stained glass. Each year, we add the delicate porcelain shepherds to the Nativity set, along with the pristine cows, sheep and donkey.

But this year, I've thought about the story in a slightly different way. Last month, Lovely Branches Ministries completed a Bible study called A Savior Is Born, which used video messages from Pete Briscoe.

In Bible times, he reminds us, the shepherds weren't society's elite. In today's society, Briscoe says, the shepherds would have more in common with homeless people than with CEOs. God chose shepherds - not the chief priests or elders - to hear the Good News first. 

The shepherds were dirty and smelly. It was the nature of their job. They didn't get to go home for a hot shower and meal every night. They were out among their sheep, keeping them safe from predators and rounding up ones who strayed away from the group. They sweated and got dirty as they walked miles and miles to find the best places for fresh water and green pastures for their sheep.

Just as the Bible study ended, my husband told me that a neighbor had baby lambs at his farm. So we drove over to look for a look and found our neighbor in the corral, wearing overalls and working the baby lambs. His boots were caked with manure. His hands were dirty, and his brow was sweaty on the unseasonably warm fall day.  And, I again thought about the shepherds.
As I stood on the outside of the fence and looked at the babies and the ewes, it was easy for me to think that this modern-day shepherd was rewarded with the cuteness quotient of his job. Of course, unlike the shepherds of ancient days, he is able to go into his house at the end of the day and clean up with a hot shower. But, while he was outside caring for those baby lambs and their mothers, it was more manure and straw than stained glass and light. 
In the evenings, he rounds up the littlest lambs and their mothers and puts them in the barn to protect them from the coyotes that would like a midnight snack. He doesn't have to lay at the gate to the pasture to protect his flock, like the shepherds of Bible times. But he does have to do his best to keep his flock safe. It means being home and being available at dusk to shepherd those most vulnerable creatures to the safety of the barn.
One of my favorite Christmas solos is called Ordinary Baby. Just some of the words are:

He was just an ordinary baby
That's the way He planned it, maybe.
Anything but common would have kept Him apart
From the children that He came to rescue
Limited to some elite few
When He was the only Child who asked to be born

And He came to us with arms wide open
Knowing how we're hurt and broken
Choosing to partake of all our joy and pain

He was just an ordinary baby
That's the way He planned it, maybe.
So that we could come to Him and not be afraid ...

He came to those dirty, smelly shepherds so long ago. He comes to imperfect and very human me. And even though my life and your life may not always be bright and shiny like stained glass, He promises to be our Good Shepherd, too. (John 10: 1-18)
Salem United Methodist Church, Newton, KS

May the true message of Christmas shine through all the busyness and the to-do lists, and may you find the Good Shepherd at the very center of your heart this holiday season. Merry Christmas from our Kansas farm to you!
Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lindsborg
Here's one rendition of Ordinary Baby.

Lovely Branches Ministries has a new website. Be sure and check it out! 

Today, I'm linked to Jennifer's Getting Down with Jesus and her feature, God Bumps and God-Incidences.  I know you'll relate to her story about longing to be Mary in the church Christmas pageant!


  1. Fantastic realizations! We so often infuse the rough reality of the situation with a softening of romance that really wasn't there. Blessings! Visiting here form GDWJ community linkup.Glad I found you today!