Run to the Manger

It can’t be December 9th, it just can’t. We’re never home, I’ve only read the kids one story all month, the decorations are cluttering up my life and my house, and I can’t stay out of the Kit Kats I bought for their teacher gifts.

Stupid Kit Kats.

Tonight was our Relief Society (lady group) Christmas party at church. I threw in my hat at the last minute to help my dear friend in charge and offered to sing.

I don’t sing here in Las Vegas. Up to this point flying under the radar has worked–I was planning to do it until we move (if…when…) but I think Heavenly Father wanted me to step away from the bushel and participate. How am I going to grow if I don’t use what I’ve got? Use it or lose it.

The song I sang was a simple Sally DeFord Christmas number that a friend in Germany had pointed me toward a few years back, “Shepherd, Leave Thy Sheep.” It was part of a lovely little program, one of many Christmas songs to carry the night.

The song is simple. So simple that today while I was praying about it, I couldn’t think of how a little repetitive song consisting of an invitation to the shepherds could really add much to the night. It’s no battle hymn or even a stirring lullaby, it asks the same thing over and over, for the shepherds to leave their sheep and go to Bethlehem to see the baby.

And as I took my concern to the Lord I was so struck by the simplicity of the words. “Shepherd, leave thy sheep, and hasten to Bethlehem to see the baby…Leave them while they sleep, come hasten to Bethlehem to see the baby. Leave them on the hill, they will fear no ill…come, and see the wondrous child of whom the Angel spake…”

Totally missed it the first seventeen times I sang through those lines. Shepherd? I’m the shepherd they’re talking about. I’m the one who frequently hesitates to remember the Savior because I have sheep that need attention–sheep who need to be bathed and brushed, who forget to do their homework if I don’t threaten, who frequently get the stomach flu and hate to make their beds.

I have been so carried away in keeping my sheep in clean underwear these last two weeks that I’ve failed to lead them to the baby. I haven’t even talked about Him yet, we have completely forgotten this miracle. Too much wool over my eyes to find the manger.

Has it really been that long since I sat in Shepherd’s Field and held that little lamb while those sweet, dirty little Bedouin children waited anxiously for a few shekels? Some memories are burned in my mind, that is one of them. I haven’t even thought of it until now.

Bethlehem, 1998. I was so disappointed when we first got Shepherd’s Field. It was…unpleasant. It was rocky and uneven, no grass to settle on and the sun was sinking fast leaving us with a cold desert chill and me without a good coat.

I wanted to feel the Spirit, I wanted it to be magical. I had dreamed my entire life of a green hill and a blazing star and sweet white sheep nestled close to wise, gentle shepherds.

What we got was a rocky landscape scattered with prickly thorns and really cold rocks to sit on.

When my turn came to hold the newborn lamb being passed around our group, I was really hoping it would warm me up more than anything. And then I looked into the hopeful eyes of those dirty little Bedouin children and in an instant, I saw what the Savior wanted me to see.

They were skinny and scraggly, wearing clothes both too big and too small and obviously rarely laundered, some of them in T-shirts and sandals out in the cold winter air.

They were first. No kings, no royalty, no gentry or well respected countrymen. Not even a rabbi. It was the shepherds, taking the cold night watch and probably thinking they’d rather be back at the tent.

Tonight shed a new light on this old story for me. The Lord has made me a shepherd, but I need to set aside those duties sometimes and run back to the manger, embrace the miracle of Jesus Christ, and drag my little Bedouins there with me.

Tomorrow we will visit the baby. Christmas is here and I remember why.