In the Midst of Our Sheep Stuff

December 17, 2012

Christmas / Advent

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved Christmas.  I loved singing carols, decorating the Christmas tree, drinking eggnog, watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and It’s a Wonderful Life for the hundredth time, and especially being with my family.

Though I wasn’t born until the early 1970’s, my grandparents always put up their silver tree from the 60’s – you know, the ones accessorized with the four-colored circling light beneath it.  It was part of the family tradition and I loved it!!   For the longest time, Christmas had this sense of awe about it.  As I grew older, I even discovered it to be what I affectionately termed the most “romantic” holiday of the year.

Then abruptly it ended! During the holidays of 1995, my romance with Christmas took a downward dive that was in reality more like a high-impact crash!  On December 2, my fiancée Amy died after a long bout with cancer.  It was less than three weeks before our wedding.

I first met Amy when she was only fourteen years old.  Even then she was the most incredible girl that I had ever known.  I  told my Mom that I met the kind of girl that I hoped to marry someday, maybe even the very girl herself.  Growing up in two different parts of the world, that would be unlikely to happen though.  The story of how we finally begin dating a few years later was nothing short of amazing.  She eventually became my best friend and soul mate.  When her cancer came back, we were convinced that God was going to heal her – through her treatments or supernaturally, we didn’t care how.  I truly felt that I had a promise from God that she would be healed.

Most of the announcements were sent.  Her wedding dress hung in a closest at her parent’s home.  Instead of a wedding celebration, we had a funeral.  In the place of dancing was mourning.  Tears instead of joy. There would be no cars chasing us as we left for our honeymoon.   A procession of automobiles followed the hearse to the cemetery.

I barely survived Christmas that year.   Every store and decoration only served to remind me of the shallowness of our culture.  I was sickened by the commercialization of the holiday.  I took my anger out on Christmas.   The world seemed so materialistic and yet so hopeless.  I too seemed hopeless!  And Christmas???  Christmas stunk!

Materialism never had much of a draw for my family.   My childhood home was simple but full of love.  I always knew the despair of materialism but for the first time in my life, I questioned the unquestionable for someone who had grown up in the church and whose family was in the ministry.  Maybe God’s not there either?  And if He is, maybe He doesn’t care?  Maybe life is just a joke.

For the next year and beyond, I struggled to even read my Bible. Yet slowly, I began to hear God speak again.  As I did, I read many passages with a whole new light.  Some, such as the following became much more raw and real…

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14)

The simple truth of Christmas became alive to me in a fresh way.  The son of God chose not to be born in a nice hospital surrounded by an expert medical team; rather He was born outdoors in a messy stable.  I’m afraid that most of our Nativity scenes and Christmas cards have sanitized the Christmas story.  The simple fact is Jesus was born in an ugly, smelly stall surrounded by sheep stuff and cow pies. His initial visitors weren’t world leaders but lowly and despised shepherds.   The song probably got it wrong.  It’s hard to believe “no crying he made”.  I think baby Jesus cried plenty that first night!  He wasn’t afraid of crying and neither is He afraid of our own tears and questions.

It took some time but I have again fallen in love with this Jesus who lost all He knew and had in heaven in order to relate to our own losses.  Jesus let down His guard and readily faced the pain, anguish and cruelty of life on earth.  He wasn’t afraid to be among the sheep stuff.  In fact, He chose to walk among it and to know our condition in order that we might be transformed by His.

Eugene Peterson, words it this way in the The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”  Jesus hasn’t changed.  I’ve found that He is still willing to move into our neighborhoods of pain, loss, discouragement, depression and despair.  If only, we will let Him.  He longs to let His love and light shine in the most unlikely places and in the darkest, most hidden parts of our lives.

It took me a while, but I’ve learned to enjoy Christmas again.  It’s not quite as romantic to me anymore.  Yet, I love this simple story of hope, the crazy story of the Savior who has never been afraid of our sheep stuff.

What’s keeping  you from trusting God with the sheep stuff of your life?  Are you  willing to let Christ move into your neighborhood and the most difficult parts of your life?  If not, what is holding you back?  Remember, there is no place so dark that  He isn’t willing to go. 

**THE Original Version of this ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE “CANDLELIGHT DEVOTIONS ADVENT 1999” FOR LAKEVIEW PARK CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE

Dec. 17, 2012  – Note:  

It seems like our world has a lot of sheep stuff these days. I guess it always has.  I am so thankful that God has never been afraid of it and is willing to walk with us even as we sometimes question and struggle through it.  There is so much that I’ve wanted to write since Friday but there just aren’t adequate words.  I had already planned on reposting this old blog and after the past few days it seems even more appropriate.  My prayer is that in the midst of darkness and pain, those who are suffering this Christmas season in Newton, Connecticut as well as due to grief and tragedies in various places around the world, may know the love of the ONE who understands pain & struggle and that they aren’t alone.   Immanuel (צמנוּאל)- “God with us”. (John 1:1-14, Matt. 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Romans 8:31-39)

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17 Comments on “In the Midst of Our Sheep Stuff”

  1. Kerry Says:

    Good words. Nice photos 🙂 kerry

    Reply

  2. Jennifer Wood Says:

    Wow..I really appreciated reading that…an unusually difficult Christmas for me this year..Sheep stuff..I like that..I really feel that it made this Christmas more real for me than ever before..I love the authenticity of our Savior’s sacrifice..I just love this Jesus that chose to suffer..it just gets me that he didn’t have to…but he did!! He’s just the greatest gift of all…and when that’s true for any of us..the suffering never out weighs the glory that God became man and dwelt among us all…He’s just my prince of peace this year..and totally qualified and willing to be just that..Peace..I’m new to face book and almost didn’t even read the posts tonight…May God’s peace surround you and all that still need the Savior…

    Reply

  3. Danna Reynolds Stone Says:

    Thanks Philip. Although the years have passed, there is something when thinking about Amy, that seems like yesterday. The Lord has carried you through to amazing places. What a journey!

    Reply

  4. Deana Says:

    I echo Karen’s comments…I was one of the many pray-ers for you all. Glad to read your candid writing and look forward to more. Also learning to embrace the baby who changed my perception of my “sheep stuff”.

    Reply

  5. Annette Ferrell Says:

    Philip, I loved this in 1999 and I love it now … after experiencing my own “sheep stuff.” Thank you for being authentic in your walk with Christ!

    Reply

  6. karen mercer Says:

    I prayed for you in your darkest time. Thousands of people around the world did. I’m glad Jesus made himself heard through your pain and darkness. He does that. He did it for me, too, when I lost my husband of 30 years. I appreciate your sharing with us. I’ve wondered how you were doing over the years.

    Reply

    • hummushumorhope Says:

      Wow! Thanks for sharing Karen and for all those prayers. Just last week, I was sharing in my Sunday School class about how I occasionally still meet people whom I’d never met and who prayed for me during that period. I often wonder where I would be today without those all prayers during that time.

      Reply

  7. Amanda Marshall Says:

    Thank you for being willing to open up and share. And thanks for reminding us what Christmas is really all about! I’m thinking of you this Christmas and praying that God will surround you with his love!

    Reply

  8. carol meek Says:

    Philip I love this and appreciate your loving heart.

    Reply

    • Franklin Cook Says:

      Phil. Meaningful. Moving. Motivating. Good writing.

      Reply

      • hummushumorhope Says:

        Thanks Franklin! The “good writing” comment means a lot to me coming from you! Now I can only dream to one day also hear you say “good driving, Phil” 🙂 Have a great Christmas! Greetings to May Lou!

    • hummushumorhope Says:

      Thanks Carol! Love your family! Pray your granddaughter is better!

      Reply

    • Donna Says:

      Philip, this reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas devotionals in a book entitled “Beholding to Becoming”. ” The Nativity” devotional says this: “. . . how many of us have really absorbed the fact that God became not only Man but Child? The Word descended not only into human limitations but into the radical need of infancy, which enabled him to share and redeem even our unremembered primal experience.” There is nothing we face that Jesus has not already “entered into” as us and for us; even those thing that had an effect on us before we were even born. “No Wonder They Called Him Savior”, as Max Lucado would say. Thanks for sharing this piece of your healing with us. Donna

      Reply

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