What happens when you hear ‘Let it Snow’ ten times in one day:

As long as you love me so
let it snow
I don’t care
As long as you love me so
I can make it through
so many hard days
it doesn’t matter
if you love me so
my dear
a bright warmth in my heart
that keeps me going
your love
oh Colorado snow
you can keep on coming
my love is here
and that is all that I need
to be alright
so let it snow

On Poverty, Living in Unexpected Places, and the Christmas Story

Maybe it’s because I just moved to a new city where I don’t know a lot of people and don’t yet have a job, but this Advent and Christmas season Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt and experiences with poverty have struck a chord with me.

Here Mary is given the greatest honor of being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, and Joseph, to be her husband and the human father to Jesus. Both were appointed these important roles by God out of all the people He created and would create. Well, I should say, both were asked to play these roles by God and both chose to say yes.

But what were they thinking when they said yes? Certainly not that they would continue to live lowly and humble lives not too terribly different from the people around them, at least on the outside. Sometimes I like to think the life of faith is one similar to the Weasley’s car or Triwizard Tournament camping tent in the Harry Potter books –that though it appears normal on the outside, the inside is so much bigger than you could imagine, but you would never know it just from a glance.

But Mary and Joseph still had to live on faith and hope, trusting God with each step in their lives. I’m sure Mary did not envision spending the last few days and weeks of her pregnancy traveling on a donkey, only to be turned away from any comfortable lodgings and forced to give birth in a cave/stable when she first thought of having the Savior of the world.

And I’m sure that Joseph did not envision fleeing to Egypt and having to provide for his small family in a place where he knew few if any people, cut off from his culture and family (one in the same then) when he agreed to serve as a human father to the Son of God.

Was this the right way of things when it seemed so difficult? Shouldn’t it be easier (and more comfortable) to follow God’s plan? This was for the King of kings after all. Shouldn’t things be richly provided for if God was behind it all?

But I think God’s ways of leading this holy family shows the example to us of how He moves in our lives too.
Sometimes it seems like doors of opportunity, safety, or comfort are being shut in my face on purpose. What did God mean by closing these doors to Mary and Joseph as they entered Bethlehem? I think it was partly to show us that even these pivotal and blessed people were led to and through poverty and uncertainty as part of the way to His coming kingdom, as part of the way to becoming holy.

They, too, were traveling in the dark, making things up as they went, and being directed by God when they would choose the wrong way.

I have had to rely on the kindness of strangers and friends as I find my place in this new city and it is humbling. But then, it is also making me surer that this is God’s way.

Sometimes the right way is not smooth and easy, but nonetheless serves to make you holier, that is, closer to God and His ways, more enlightened in understanding, and able to serve as a vehicle of grace to others (in the present and millennia in the future).

What ever happened to the shepherds?

We never see them in the story again.  They were drawn to the Christ by angels, but what became of their lives after this encounter?  Did they follow Jesus’ life?  Keep tabs on this boy as he grew into a man — waiting for stories of a Messianic King taking the nation by storm, recognizing the whispers about this man from Nazareth for what they were?   Were they part of the crowds that followed him from town to town?  Or did they just return to their lives as they were, and wonder when news of a Jewish radical crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans for claiming to be God reached their ears.

There’ve been plenty of shepherds that God has appeared to in the middle of nowhere: Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Amos.  But these guys remain nameless.   And it’s a group of them, not just one of them that God singles out to move His people.  But nonetheless they are given a task:

“And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.   And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. “(Lk 1:17-20)

They’ve encountered the Holy Spirit shining around them; they’ve seen an army of angels, terrifying to behold, but beautiful in their worship to God; they’ve been told that the Savior of their nation and people has been born and are even given directions of a kind to find him and see him with their own eyes.  Besides Mary and Joseph (and let’s assume a few close family and friends –i.e. Elizabeth and Zechariah), and some wise kings/astrologers who figure it out for themselves, they are the FIRST to know that God is finally putting this salvific plan in process.

That’s pretty awesome.  I’d feel pretty special and privileged.  God had picked me out, out of all the people in the world, and all of the tribes of Israel, and all the shepherds wandering the plains, to see His Son and tell everybody that I know.  (I think it’s interesting to note here too, that we know nothing about these shepherds.  Were they even born of the tribes of Israel?  Were they even practicing, devout Jews?  Did it matter?  It was a pretty smart move by God –kind of like starting a rumor in a busy port town.  The message is carried from well to well, from city to city, and suddenly everyone is talking about this baby born in Bethlehem and questions are stirred up about this long looked for Messiah.)

It’s hard to think they were disappointed upon finding an ordinary baby, even an apparently poor one, lying in a manger and not even a real bed.  Despite his odd circumstances, they must have felt an incredible hope and a ‘great joy’ as the angel proclaimed.  They had hard proof that times were a-changing, that life would be different because of this Son, that God was going to save His people.

But what did they think twenty, thirty, or even fifty years later when nothing about their lives had apparently changed –when they were still shepherds, herding sheep, waiting for news of a conquered Roman Empire.  Did they dismiss their heavenly encounter as a dream?  Did they give up on the God of Israel?  Or did they remain faithful like Abraham, living lives that had quietly changed on the inside, staring up at the stars and remembering that fateful night when they had seen with their own eyes the glories of heaven.

Today we have Christmas lights and cheery music to get us through the darker days of late November and December.  But sometimes in January and February I wish that Christmas was a little later in winter so that more of the colder days could be lit up in warmth and hope.  When we’re kids we wish that Christmas could be every day.  But even after realizing everyone would be thoroughly tired of it if all the popular Christmas tunes and commercials and jingles and ads were hyped up year round, I’d still want the Christmas season (or really the peacefulness of Advent) to be longer than it is now.

If there could be a reminder in every grey and chilly day that heaven touched down to earth one clear evening thousands of years ago and brought peace and a deeper meaning to our dull and difficult days, I’d be alright with that.  If hope were as easy to see as a flickering candle in a window, I’d be alright with that.  Because maybe we’re all more like shepherds, wandering through life, moving from place to place, with only tidings of a great joy to guide us.