While Shepherds Watched
This is different from the other two stories. For one, it happened just a few weeks ago. As for the other difference, you’ll just have to bear with me. I’ll explain why I chose to include this story at the end.
I’ve been a childcare worker at a church all semester, and all year the children have looked forward to the beginning of Advent and the Christmas season. Finally, Advent began, and all the Christmas decorations came out, including a Playmobile nativity set in my classroom. One of the four year olds in my class took to it right away, and started to set it up. It had a lot of pieces, like boxes for the three Wise Men’s gifts and a little cauldron that hung over a fire. When I was able, I would help her manipulate the tiny pieces, and walk her through the Christmas story as we put the set together.
Finally, after a small debate about whether or not Joseph was one of the Magi, the whole scene was put together. Mary and Joseph stood by Baby Jesus, the Wise Men, tired from their journey, sat on the ground with their cloaks set next to them, and the Angel rested on a log, wearing one of the Magi’s crowns. The shepherds, who we decided had also had a long trip, were gathered together around the cauldron and the fire.
The four-year-old surveyed the scene and frowned. She obviously thought something was missing. After a moment, her faced lit up, and she declared “They had lamb for dinner!” Then, much to the horror of the other teacher in the room, she picked up one of the lambs and placed it in the cauldron.
So, why did I think this was a good story to tell on Christmas? Because I’ve realized how easily we romanticize the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph in the pristine stable, the gentle animals serenely approaching the manger, cute little sheep frolicking around. Even the word “manger” sounds romantic to our ears. I like how the Cotton Patch Gospel translates “manger”. They say “apple box”. The fact is, the stable was smelly, Mary was probably exhausted, and Joseph was most likely terrified for the well-being of his wife and child. And if the shepherds were hungry, well, that’s part of why they raised sheep in the first place. I doubt there was a sheep barbeque at the actual nativity, but one little girl’s candid behavior helped me to remember the true extent of the humility of the Holy birth.