Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Shepherd Named Shimi

by Sharlyn Guthrie

Shabby shepherds hugged quivering lambs to pounding chests -clutched tangled wool with trembling fingers. Moments ago the black sky had hung silent. Now shepherds lay strewn across the hard ground where they fell, shielding unaccustomed eyes from blazing brightness.

Shimi spread the fingers of his grimy hands just enough to peek through them, afraid of what he would see, but also of what he might miss. Winter shepherding was a new experience in this, his twelfth year. Still, the frightful angelic appearance seemed to amaze even well seasoned, ordinarily unflappable shepherds.

The angel was speaking now. “Do not be afraid.” Easy for him to say! “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Why did they choose us? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”* A feedbox? Surely the Savior deserves a bed.

The lone celestial being was suddenly joined by a whole company of angels shouting, singing, and praising God. Shimi wasn’t certain when his fear turned to wonder, only that it had. “On earth, peace…” the choir sang in blissful harmony before silently slipping behind ethereal, star-studded shades.

Mesmerized shepherds hesitated briefly, then scrambled to their feet. “We must go and find this infant. If true, this is very good news, indeed!” Two elderly herders agreed to guard the flock while the others gathered their cloaks and began running toward Bethlehem. Shimi’s youthful legs led the pack. Three miles, most of it uphill, was no small distance to cover.

Unlike most of his comrades, Shimi was educated. His father, while living, had insisted he memorize long passages from the sacred scrolls. As he ran, Shimi recalled the foretelling of a king coming from Bethlehem. Would this child fulfill the ancient prophecy?

Shimi had grown up fast. Upon his father’s death, he was obligated to care for his mother and younger siblings. Hireling was the only available job for one so young. Mother would be chagrined by the crude stories that assaulted his ears. Then there was the matter of thieving. Shimi was expected to assist in the unlawful sale of lambs being groomed for temple sacrifice. His refusal to do so resulted in daily ridicule.

The unsavory group slowed as their feet found the cobblestone streets of Bethlehem. Stealthily, in search of a stable, they darted down alleyways. If discovered, their presence near the stables in the middle of the night would certainly be suspect. In general, shepherds were considered mean and untrustworthy characters.

“Over here!” Shimi’s hoarse whisper drew immediate response. A dozen pairs of feet descended upon him. The stable door creaked open a bit, alerting the occupants.

“Who’s there?” A young man protectively wrapped his arms around the young girl beside him.

“It’s just as the angel said,” a shepherd announced. “We’ve found the Christ.”

“Angel, you say?” the young father inquired.

“Yes. An angel appeared in the field…nearly frightened us to death. We have come a good distance to see this for ourselves.” Quietly, respectfully, the men filled the space inside the barn as each gave an account of all they had witnessed. Joseph explained to the shepherds how he and Mary had also been visited by angels.

Shimi knelt by the baby. “May I touch him?” he asked.

“Of course,” Mary replied. “You are but a boy yourself.”

Shimi wiped his dirty hands on the inside of his cloak. Then, ever so gently he traced the back of his finger around the baby’s delicate face. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."** His whispered words did not go unnoticed.

“How is it that you know the Scriptures?” Joseph asked.

“My father taught me. Your son is the long awaited king of Israel, and I…I am one of the first to know.” Shimi swiped an unbidden tear from his cheek. “We must spread this good news!”

Though their hands remained calloused, the adoring shepherds’ hearts were permanently softened. Their thieving ways and ridicule of Shimi ceased, and they told all who would listen of their encounter with the angels, and the good news of the Savior born in Bethlehem.

*Luke 2:10b-12 (NIV)
**Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cruising for Christmas (but not skipping it)

This blog entry comes to you from the waters surrounding Central America. John and I are on a 10-day pre-Christmas cruise through the Panama Canal. John is a history buff, who has long been intrigued by the history of the canal. He is also a Vietnam War veteran who did his guerilla warfare training in the jungles of Panama, yet he had never been to the canal, so this cruise is a lifelong dream of his, and I got to come along!

We are having a great time, and I can’t help but feel blessed and completely spoiled to be here, especially since we left behind eighteen inches of snow and -20 degree wind chills.

It is hard for me to remember that this is the Christmas season, and since I love Christmas, I feel some regret about that. Oh, there are a few Christmas trees and poinsettias scattered here and there, but there is no mention of Christmas, and, worst of all, no Christmas music!

On Saturday evening I was reading in the ship’s library while listening to a Ukrainian trio -piano, flute, and violin, playing in the atrium below. The music was all classical and lovely, but I was wishing for some Christmas music, when a melody they began playing brought these words to mind: “Down from His glory, ever-living story, my God and Savior came, and Jesus was His name; born in a manger, to His own a stranger, a man of sorrows, tears, and agony. O how I love Him. How I adore Him -my breath, my sunshine, my all in all. The great Creator became my Savior, and all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.” What powerful lyrics! It took a while for me to realize that the musicians were no actually playing “O Sole Mio,” most likely unaware that lyrics referring to the Savior’s birth had ever been written to that tune, yet their music, combined with the words it unlocked from my memory, seemed like a special gift.

The following morning John and I attended an ecumenical church service, and were surprised to see a large number of fellow passengers in attendance. A Romanian pianist played Christmas carols, and we joined our voices with those of people from many countries and states in singing them. The woman that led the service exclaimed about the unifying message of Christmas; how we can journey from many different places and many different faith traditions, and yet agree on this: peace, comfort, joy, and a blessed hope is ours because of the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Joy to the World!

I hope that you are enjoying a beautiful Christmas season, regardless of where you are in the world, and what the temperature or circumstance. God smiled on us all that first Christmas when He sent His Son into the world for the purpose of taking the punishment we all deserved. Not even the gift of a Panama Canal cruise can begin to compare with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go feed my face at the Mexican buffet and then sit by the pool for a spell. Adios, Amigos.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Clearly Christmas, Clarabelle

by Sharlyn Guthrie

Clarabelle clattered down the hall with her walker and entered her room. Pain shot through her hip, reminding her of what had landed her in this dismal place the week before Christmas. The spunky eighty five year old had no regrets about climbing a ladder to wash her kitchen window. She did wish, however, that the ground had been softer beneath it.

After three weeks in the hospital Clarabelle landed here. In her usual optimistic way she had decided to make the best of retirement home living, but that was proving harder than expected. The other residents seemed glum. “Sourpusses –all of them!” muttered Clarabelle, clucking her tongue. “I’ve never seen such a miserable lot. Something’s got to be done.”

Reaching her desk, Clarabelle wondered why things looked fuzzy. “Did I loose my glasses?” she asked aloud. “They’re probably right on top of my head,” she promptly answered herself. When she reached for them, however, they weren’t there. “Well, never mind. I can do what I intend to do without glasses.”

Clarabelle pulled open the middle desk drawer and lifted out a small box. “I knew I had some Christmas cards in here,” she spouted with satisfaction, and then quickly set to work. ‘If I’m the only one with Christmas cheer around here, then I’ll just have to spread it around.”

Clarabelle spent the afternoon signing “Love, Clarabelle” at the bottom of each card…or was it the top? Sometimes it was hard to tell. She sealed them in envelopes, and on the front of each she printed, “For You.” Until she learned their names, it would have to do.

At four-forty Clarabelle slipped the cards into the pocket of her polka-dot duster and headed back to the dining room. Marcy, the kitchen assistant was filling water glasses. “You’re a little early, Clarabelle,” she said.

“Just as I was hoping. I need to pass these Christmas cards around before everyone gets here.”

“How nice of you, Clarabelle! Say, are these your glasses? I found them after lunch today.” The girl held something in her outstretched hand, and Clarabelle brightened.

“Oh, that’s where they are! I can be a little scatter-brained sometimes.” Clarabelle donned the glasses, causing the room to come into focus. “Now that’s better. Ooh. My handwriting doesn’t look so good, does it?”

“It’s fine, Clarabelle. Do you need some help passing these around?”

“That sure would be kind of you.”

They finished just as the first diners shuffled in, heads drooped, shoulders sagging. Clarabelle crossed her gnarled fingers and breathed a prayer as she retreated to her own table.

More folks arrived and began opening their cards. Soon the room was buzzing with conversation, though Clarabelle couldn’t hear what was being said. She pretended not to notice when some peeked over their cards and pointed her way. She could hardly conceal her excitement.

The chatter in the room continued to mount. Was that laughter she heard? Her plan was working! Clarabelle was a little puzzled, however by those at her own table. They looked uneasy and were shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Finally Fred, who sat across from her, broke the silence. “I’m single, you know. But thanks, anyway.”
Clarabelle hadn’t known, and his remarks confused her.

She reached for his card and was astounded to read, "Happy Anniversary. May your love continue to blossom." Her mouth fell open and she snatched the card from the gentleman beside her, "Happy Birthday to a special boy!" A wrinkled woman in a wheelchair extended her card sporting a stork. It read, "A new arrival? Bet you’re proud as can be!" Clarabelle clapped her hand over her mouth and gasped, but soon began to chuckle. The chuckle became contagious laughter, and soon everyone was guffawing and slapping their knees.

“Oh my,” she finally managed, swiping at tears, “I just wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer. You see, I left my glasses in the dining room. I thought these were Christmas cards …” A fresh batch of giggles ensued.

“Well, Ms. Clarabelle, you’ve achieved your goal,” Marcy announced, approaching. “You’ve spread some Christmas cheer and started a few rumors, too.” Marcy turned to the frail wheelchair-bound woman. “Just where have you been hiding that new little one, Mary Lou?” she teased.

Dinner that evening was delightful, and in the following days Clarabelle received a mountain of Christmas cards -mostly handmade. Her favorite, however, was a heart-shaped one that read, "Be My Valentine." It came from Fred, across the table.

I hope Clarabelle made you smile today. Now go on over to Homespun Expressions for links to more great fiction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Only One Thing Is Needed

“Martha, Martha.” Jesus was most likely shaking his head as He gazed intently into Martha’s eyes and chided her with these familiar words, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)

I have often found myself similarly repeating a child’s name, both as a teacher and as a parent. Disappointment, frustration, and incredulity are what I am usually feeling at the time. Don’t you realize? Can’t you see? Is it really that hard to understand? I wish I could say that I am always on the side of “getting it,” and yet at times I hear Jesus’ gentle, incredulous voice calling, “Shari, Shari, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed…”

Why is it so hard for me to see and understand? For one thing, I am good at rationalizing. I have rationalized that my strivings are worthwhile, that what I am doing is for the cause of Christ. After all, somebody has to do those worthwhile things that take time and effort, right?

It’s true. Somebody has to do the real work that worthwhile ministries require. I can’t and should not turn my back on all of these opportunities. Besides, the work of my hands is often a work of heart, an expression of love in and of itself.

I sincerely believe God honors my gifts of labor. When spending time with Jesus feels like an intrusion, however, I am too busy -period. It matters not that my fingers are raw from cooking for the homeless, nor that my feet ache from fund-raising for missions. If my relationship with Jesus Christ has been sacrificed or pushed aside in order to accomplish these good things, my efforts mean nothing. How easy it is to forget the One I am supposedly serving.

Music is one of the chief ways I have always worshipped and communed with God. In recent months I have spent less and less time playing the piano and singing songs of praise. Above my piano hangs a plaque that says, “The Lord respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.” I have simply been too busy, but what could be more important than singing praises to my Savior and Friend?

I hear Him chiding, "Shari, Shari..." and then it occurs to me that God, the creator of the universe, the only One worthy of praise, knows my name! He notices when I'm worried and stressed, and He cares when I get too busy for Him! That He desires to spend time with me in loving fellowship is almost more than my human mind can comprehend. How foolish of me to let other things get in the way. Being with Jesus is the better thing -the one thing I need. Nothing else even comes close.

Jesus, help me to desire the better thing. Help me to be WITH You, and not merely busy FOR You. Let me see my time with You as necessary above all other things. Fill me with a greater longing for those sweet times of singing, prayer, and time in Your Word. In your precious name I pray, Amen.

For more reading on the above quote please visit Heart Choices