The Shepherds Return

The Christmas decorations in our home come down within days (sometimes hours) of the 26th. 

I’m not one to sit and linger in the afterglow of Christmas.  A fanatic organizer, picker-upper, and self-proclaimed windex-er extraordinaire, I insist that every Christmas themed item in the house be packed up and tucked back deep into the recesses of the attic well before January makes its debut. 

As much as I anxiously await setting Christmas up in the days following Thanksgiving each year, I am always quick to put everything back into place after the presents have been opened and the carols have been sung.  Those few December weeks preceding Christmas Day have always been my favorite part of the season; all the hope, excitement, and anticipation of what Christmas means, and the slow building up to it, has always trumped the events of the day itself - gifts and cookies included.

Odd as it may seem, in my mind, Christmas Day actually marks the beginning of the end of all things Christmas for a whole 11 months.  Pessimistic, I know, but these last several years, as the babies have grown into toddlers and then into pre-schoolers and beyond, there has been a sharp emotional fall in the weeks after I unplug the Christmas tree.

The lights come down and the ornaments are boxed up.

Everything back in order.  Exactly how it was before.

That's struck me as a bit depressing these last few years. How are we supposed to return to the way things were before, after the promise of Christmas has been fulfilled?  Doesn't the return somehow minimize the reality of what Christmas means?  How on earth is my heart supposed to manage the return?

I’ve been pondering these questions for years now, quietly dreading the return to normalcy that the weeks following Christmas bring.  The slow falling back into the exact same rhythm of life that marked the months before Advent.

I spent the early mornings of this year’s Advent season memorizing the story of the very first Christmas from Luke chapter two.  I begged God for the ability to hear new news in the familiar story, events, and characters as I committed them to heart. 

Joseph and Mary, heavy with child, making the long journey to Bethlehem to be counted for the census.  The Savior born in humble and unassuming circumstances, wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in the manger.  The angel announcing the Savior’s birth to an unlikely crew of shepherds.  The shepherds journeying to behold the face of the One whom the angels proclaimed and spreading the word of the Christ-child's birth.  And then, after but a brief glimpse of the Savior of the world, the shepherds simply returned.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it has been told to them.
— Luke 2:20

And the shepherds returned. 

The phrase stopped me in my tracks the morning I set out to memorize it.  It struck a deep and heavy chord in the heart of this girl who has historically mourned the return. 

Managing the return to normalcy after the majesty of a miracle.

After all the thrill, hope, and excitement of playing just a bit part in Jesus’ birth story, the shepherds returned to exactly what they had been doing before the Christ was born.  After all they had heard and seen, the shepherds joyfully went back to a mundane life of sheep-keeping with all it’s tasks, responsibilities, frustrations, and failures.  What’s most astonishing is that their return brought much glory and praise to the Father.  Their return to life as it was did not belittle what they had experienced, but actually bore witness to it.

As I memorized Luke 2 verse 20 that morning I was so deeply and genuinely convicted that, in the same manner of the shepherds, I would be faithful to simply return in the aftermath of Christmas this year.  That after all the beauty and tenderness of the Christmas season gives way to the bleak January landscape, I would joyfully go back to exactly what God has called me to do, glorifying and praising Him for all that I have heard and seen these last few weeks, and over the course of the year.

My prayer for each of us at this December's end is that in our return, we would bear witness to all God accomplished through the birth of His Son all those Christmases ago.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying,

”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it has been told to them.
— Luke 2:8-20

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