Christmas is over. Not just the day, but the real twelve-day season. (It’s actually January 6, Epiphany–that points to God’s light, the star, Gentiles, and Wise Men–as I’m writing.)
Last night at home our decorations started coming down. This evening we’ll pack away more of the seasonal beauty as our sweet, warm little church will be undecorated and, for a few days, uncharacteristically depressing.
Last evening I packed away the electric train that journeys around our tree. My wife took the lights and greenery off of the mantle. The Christmas cookie jars are headed off to wherever Christmas cookie jars go “in the bleak midwinter.”
The midwinter is never bleaker than after Christmas. I’m a winter guy in love with snow (not blizzards) and fireplaces, good books and sweaters. But I always hate it when the Christmas lights go out.
I plugged in our tree this morning for its last hurrah. When I pull the plug, I will be officially, once more, as far as I can get from Christmas. Rats.
My thoughts now, not very “Christmasy,” are nonetheless about Christmas events. I’ve been thinking about those Christmas shepherds.
“Christmas” shepherds they certainly were. It’s not hard for me to imagine other shepherds who might have found illusory angels at the bottom of wineskins. But these were, I’ll wager, the only shepherds this world has ever seen whose eyes were blinded by angel light and whose ears were filled with angel song. The only shepherds angel-sent to find God’s baby Son cradled in a feed trough in Bethlehem.
I wonder what they did with the sheep, but when these sheep-herders paid attention to the angels that lit up the skies, they traveled light to Bethlehem, unburdened by any need to be the most religious of the religious, or more “right” than is healthy or happy. They were not power-dulled CEOs of the corporate sheep pen. Just run of the sheep mill shepherds. Good for them. These guys are easy to like.
To Bethlehem they went. To the stable. Look in the manger they did, and they found the wonder-full thing they were seeking.
What I wonder now is what came after. What happened in the hearts of the shepherds when the angel skylights faded, when that first Christmas was over, and when they went back to their fields? They’d seen, heard, received, experienced, “good news of great joy.” What lasting difference did the Light of that one night make in their lives once they were back for days and months and years watching witless sheep in the dark?
I’m asking about the shepherds and the difference Christ’s coming made in their lives. It’s far too daunting a question for me to ask of the mothers of Bethlehem whose baby sons King Herod would murder when he heard of that same coming of the real King.
Somehow, if the angels’ message really is good news of great joy, it has to be such deep and real joy that it lasts when decorations go back in the box, angel lights in the fields fade out, shepherds get old, and even—it breaks my heart to think of this—when babies’ mothers mourn.
If the Light that shines is real light, it has to shine brightly in the darkness, as far as you can get from Christmas. If it does, and only if it does, God’s coming is never as far away as it sometimes seems.
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Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.