Over the past five lessons, we have learned how decorating for Christmas can draw us nearer to the One Who Christmas is all about:
* In the hanging of the ornaments, we remember the blessings of God on our families;
* In the Nutcrackers, we remember that God is our strength, our fortress, our strong tower, our ever present help in time of need;
* In the stringing of the lights we remember that God asks us to be lights in this world, ever sharing the beautiful gifts He has given us at Christmas with the world;
* In the “decorating crew”, we remember that we are adopted into the family of God, and God, the ultimate Father, has taken us into His family. He will never, ever leave us or forsake us;
* Finally, in the wrapping of the gifts, we see that what truly counts is what is inside the package–It is what is inside our hearts that God sees, and that is what truly matters.
As I stood back to admire how pretty my house looked–on the inside, as well as on the outside!–it occurred to me that there was one other thing that was important to decorate for Christmas: My heart! As I contemplated this idea, I realized that this is perhaps the most important thing to decorate for Christmas! In fact, even if I didn’t have the time or resources to decorate anything else, this is the one thing that shouldn’t be neglected!
But just how does one “decorate the heart” for Christmas?
Perhaps the answer lies in the original Christmas story. You see, God brought only a few select people to that first Christmas, and perhaps the most poignant is who He did not bring! He didn’t bring kings or priests or rulers. He didn’t bring inn keepers or even the ordinary citizens of Bethlehem. Instead, He brought–shepherds!
I realize that over the past 2000 years since this story actually happened, we have managed to somehow “glorify” the shepherds. After all, they must have been very special indeed to have been invited to Jesus’ birthday party. In reality, however, shepherds were not considered high society. Shepherds were dirty, they wore tattered clothing and had unkept hair, they were away from home for days on end, and their families were their flocks of sheep. They rarely even got a good night’s sleep due to the fact that it was especially at night that they needed to guard their flocks. And if one of those sheep went missing, there was no rest, no meal until the lost was found.
Why would God choose shepherds as the guests of honor for Jesus’ birth?
Because it is in becoming like those shepherds that we decorate our hearts for ChriEstmas!
Not following me?
Think about the traits of character that a shepherd must have to be able to give total dedication to his sheep, to deny self, to be focused solely on the well-being of those sheep. Is this not how God would have us to be as well? Totally dedicated to loving Him and loving others? Solely focused on the well-being of those around us, to the point that we deny self? Is this not the example that we have from Jesus’ life? Does He not admonished us that: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it…” (Matt 16:24,25)?
Still not convinced? Let’s see what the Old Testament has to say about shepherds:
1. God is likened to a Shepherd, and He is our ultimate example: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps. 23:1);
2. The leadership of Moses was likened to that of a shepherd, and interestingly, Moses spent many years as an actual shepherd in order to learn the skills required to “shepherd” the people of Israel: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian…” (Ex. 3:1,21);
3. Moses saw his role as a shepherd, for in his prayer of consecration for his successor, Joshua, he said, “May the Lord…appoint someone over this community…so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Num. 27:16-17 NIV)
4. The Bible also speaks strongly against the leaders of Israel who did NOT shepherd Israel: “The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.” (Jeremiah 10:21).
5. Finally, the Old Testament promises that God will raise up a “good shepherd”, one that will really tend the flocks: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power…his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isa. 40:10-11 NIV).
This is why God brought shepherds to Jesus’ first birthday, and it is in following in the example of these shepherds, in becoming humble, self-denying caregivers of God’s flock, that we will adequately “decorate” our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth this year.
I urge each of you to not only put up a tree and drape it with lights, tinsel and ornaments; don’t just put out the nutcrackers and wrap the presents. It isn’t that these things are wrong, but when we focus ONLY on the decoration of our homes, we miss out on the most important decoration of all: The decoration of our hearts.
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author — “Aboard God’s Train — A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer”, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.
(To access the entire “Decorating for Christmas” mini-series, please click here.)