Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent 2016

Shelby the Sheep


            Long after the others had wandered back up the hill, Shelby remained by the creek.  The water was quiet and almost still, with a glassy surface just right for admiring her coat.

            Shelby turned a little to the right and looked back over her shoulder at her reflection.  Gentle brown eyes were framed by a dark face, but what she really admired was the soft, fluffy, ivory wool that exploded upward behind her ears and all the way down her back.

            "And why shouldn't I admire it?" she thought.  After all, maintaining a perfect coat was no small feat.  When the other sheep marched through mud and dirt to reach the tastiest grasses, Shelby stayed near the path, unwilling to soil her wool.  When the rains came, she was the first to scamper for the shelter of a tree or rock, eager to protect her fine fleece from the elements.

            Shelby knew the other sheep laughed at her and thought her vain.  And perhaps she was a bit "fussy," but Shelby loved her clean, perfect wool.  "I wouldn't trade it for anything," she told herself. Eventually Shelby turned and walked up the hill to join the herd as the sun began to set on that December evening.  She wandered over to her favorite shepherd, Timothy, and he lovingly caressed her head.  She sighed under the reassuring weight of his hand, and then settled down and drifted off to sleep.

            At first she thought she was dreaming.  There was noise - so much noise - as sheep bounded off in fright all around her and the shepherds scrambled to their feet.  But it wasn't a dream.  Shelby leapt up and squinted in the bright light overhead, brighter than any noon-day sun.  Her heart raced, her legs shook - she was nearly paralyzed with fear.

            But as she stood there, trembling, the noise began to change.  Over the din of bleating sheep and shouting shepherds, she heard...a melody.  The beautiful song washed over her like a warm bath, baptizing her with a feeling of peace and joy.  As her eyes adjusted to the light, Shelby began to see shapes in the sky.

            "Angels," she heard a breathless voice behind her say.

            It was Timothy.  He was standing nearby, awestruck as the choir of angels sang from the heavens.  Then the singing faded as an otherworldly voice announced, "Do not be afraid."

            And Shelby found that she was not afraid.

            "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people," said the angel.  "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

            Too soon, the choir of heavenly hosts faded and disappeared, returning the night sky to an inky darkness.  But off in the distance, they could see an unusually bright star hovering over Bethlehem.

            The shepherds gathered around their fire, and began to talk excitedly about the great miracle they'd witnessed and the message of the angels.  Finally!  The Messiah!  And so near!

            All the shepherds agreed they should journey to see this child.  "But what could we bring to him?" one shepherd asked.  They grew thoughtful and quiet.

            It was a cold night, and as Shelby watched the shepherds around the fire she felt thankful for her perfect, warm fleece.  Her thoughts turned to the baby in the manger, and how cold he must be with no proper home.  No proper bed.

            And the idea came to her as quick as lightening.  She trotted next to Timothy in the circle around the fire and she nudged his hand.  He looked at her with a puzzled expression - it was very unusual for a sheep to wander so close to the fire.  She stepped forward so that his hand was resting over her wool.  She stared at him, willing him to understand.

            Timothy touched the soft fibers of Shelby's coat, and then drew in a quick breath.  "I know!" he announced to the others.  "I know what we can bring to the baby."

            From his small bundle of tools, Timothy located his shears.  "I'm sorry you'll be a little cold," he whispered to Shelby as he began snipping the thick wool from her back.  "But you have the most beautiful coat of all the sheep - perfect for a blanket for our King."

            Yes.  This was what Shelby had wanted, too.  As much as she loved her coat, she wanted to share it with the baby Jesus.  She wanted to give him the very best of herself.

            Timothy finished cutting away her wool, and Shelby shivered a little in the winter air.  But when she joined her brothers and sisters in the herd, she enjoyed their collective protection from wind and cold. Shelby's beautiful coat would soon be wrapping the infant king, who had come to bring peace to the world.  Knowing this filled Shelby's heart with peace, joy, and warmth.


-- Ginger Heidel



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