Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Christmas Story

Christmas past…..

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. [Luke 2:8]

It had been about four hours since the sun had set.  The three shepherds were trying to stay warm, and Simeon was lost in his thoughts….

What a miserable existence, spending days and nights in the fields, away from home, watching someone else’s sheep.   Shepherding was once considered honorable.  After all, King David was a shepherd, as were the patriarchs. But this day and age, shepherds are considered lowlifes, not a vocation to aspire to. Not many fathers would relish giving their daughter away in marriage to someone who spent more time with sheep than with a wife and children.

At least Simeon was lucky in that regard.  He and Hannah had been together for more than a decade.  They had two sons and a daughter, not including the one they lost.  Simeon suppressed a pang of grief that surfaced again, diverting his thoughts instead to being home soon, where he would be able to spend a few days with Hannah and the children before starting the cycle all over again, moving sheep from pasture to pasture.

In the meantime, he was cold and tired, trying to make it through the night, small talking and bantering with his companions Jacob and Zechariah. Though the three of them were barely literate, they all had a basic knowledge of the Scriptures that were read in the synagogue every Sabbath.  The rabbis taught them that God had called their fathers to be His chosen people to be a blessing to all nations.  They knew about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, how their descendants were delivered from slavery in Egypt and brought into a promised land.  They knew the story of David, the Shepherd King who firmly established and extended the Kingdom of Israel, safe from all its enemies, a land flowing with milk and honey, and everyone under their own vine and fig tree.  And God promised David that his dynasty would last forever.

It sure didn’t seem that way.  At this point, Simeon had neither vine nor fig tree.  The land flowing with milk and honey was being run by surrogates of Rome, the latest in a long succession of empires that had overrun the land of Judah.  Simeon wondered to himself--though he wouldn’t dare question out loud--if God’s promises were true.  It didn’t seem right that the Promised Land should be under the yoke of unclean Gentiles.  It also troubled him that some of the religious leaders had a much too cozy relationship with their Roman rulers. Then there were the Israelite tax collectors who were selling out their brothers by working for Rome.

Simeon wasn’t too angry at them.  After all, they too needed to make a living.  And he was painfully aware that he had his own faults, more than he cared to remember.  His conscience bothered him.  He had been taught that God was holy and just, but the rabbis assured him that God would forgive sins by accepting an offering.  He wasn’t quite sure how or why sacrificing an innocent lamb would take away his sin.  Did it really? 

Simeon continued to ponder.  Though he looked forward to going home in just a few days, truth be told, he felt weighed down, empty and afraid.  He worried about whether he could provide for his family.  As he thought about the Roman occupation, he also worried about the future, particularly for his children.  
Simeon’s thoughts were interrupted by what he could only describe as brightness.  He wasn’t sure what it was, but he and his companions suddenly had another and more immediate reason to be afraid: 

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. [Luke 2:10]
Christmas present…..

It’s a winter evening in front of my computer.  The house is quiet, and I can relax after a long and somewhat tedious day’s work as a government employee.

I've been doing it for some twenty-seven years now.  There have actually been times when I enjoyed my job, particularly back in the days when I was a garden variety translator.  Whether the material I was translating was interesting or mundane, routine or ground breaking, I always left work with a sense of accomplishment.  Even after I moved into management there were still times I felt like I was making a difference.  I was once a bit of a mover and shaker, but those days are gone now.  Truth be told, I am bored to tears; my brains are turning to jelly, and I am counting the days until I am eligible to retire in less than three years. 

It used to be that “public service” was considered honorable.  Now it is viewed as a cushy, overpaid job for people who can’t accomplish much.  Though my conscience is clear that I work diligently and competently for my pay, the existing negative perception of government service is all too often justified. I have seen plenty of bloated, top-heavy organizational structures, what I like to describe as “The Department of Redundancy Department.”  It galls me that while people in the real world have to make sacrifices and tighten their belts, life in the government proceeds as normal.

I guess I should be grateful.   At least I have a job--well paying at that—while about ten percent of us do not.  And even the tedium and setbacks of my current employment have an awakening side benefit.  Unlike in my heady days of when I thought I was a mover and shaker, I am reminded anew that I cannot and should not find my identity in my employment.   There are much more important things in life than the work I do to support my family… such as my family itself!  I am truly grateful.  I have been married to Susan for more than 32 years, and life with her keeps getting sweeter.  We’ve been blessed with three kids and now we have two wonderful grandkids.

Then again, the joys of family remind me of heartaches as well.  I miss my mom and dad, as well as many others from their generation (and some in this generation) who are no longer with us.  Yes, I am confident that they are with the Lord and I will see them in eternity, but I still long to hear their voice and hug them again. 

I also worry about the future for my children and grandkids, particularly for my two special needs children.  How will they fare when I am gone? What kind of world will it be? Things do seem to be going to hell in a hand basket.  The economy is in the tank, mob behavior is encouraged and celebrated, and ideas that were once universally disparaged as immoral or absurd are now a matter of serious debate.  Sure, there is always the hope that things will turn around and sanity will be restored.  There were hopeful signs at the ballot box in 2010.  Maybe the turnaround will be even more decisive in 2012. But even if we do reverse course politically, I know I can’t put my hope in man or political parties.  In the meantime we are speeding pedal-to-metal toward the cliff, and I sometimes wonder if our nation will even survive.  The ash heap of history is full of once great civilizations that thought they were immortal but eventually committed collective suicide.  Is it now our turn?  God help us, I hope not.  

I am tempted to get angry at those who have brought us to the brink; liberal demagogues who spout off class-warfare rhetoric as a means of increasing the size and scope of government (and their own personal power); statist busy-bodies who want to run other people’s lives; lazy, under-educated and self-indulgent generations who feel a sense of entitlement.  I could go on and on, but then I remember, there but for the grace of God go I. Good grief, I feel guilty enough knowing that I probably could not earn my present salary in the private sector.  I would like to think that I work hard and conscientiously, but am I too part of the problem? 

Yes, there is that faithful companion called guilt.  It used to paralyze me, even though the Gospel informs me that my sins are forgiven.  I would often find myself quoting the prayer from Psalm 25: 7:
Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.
Christmas always…..

Yes, it does seem I have a lot in common with Simeon, my historical fiction friend from Christmas past.  But whether the issue is boredom and disillusionment with a vocation, heartache and mourning over lost loved ones, anger over waste, fraud and abuse, fear for the future of my family and nation, or even  a gnawing sense of guilt; God has an answer for both Simeon’s fears and mine:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  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.” [Luke 2:11-12]
Jesus, son of Mary and Son of God has met our greatest need.  The messianic descendant of King David was born in relative poverty and in an uncertain time. He was subject to the same types of joys and sorrows that Simeon, you and I face every day.  He was “in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]  He came not as Judge but as Savior. He subjected Himself to the worst this world has to offer, dying on a cross as the innocent Lamb to take away our sins, and rising again.  By trusting in Him, there is assurance that our sins are forgiven, and that He will never leave nor forsake us.  And His Kingdom will have no end.  This is good news indeed!

I wish you and yours all the joys and blessings of Christmas, both now and throughout the year. 


JD Curtis said...

This is beautiful Leo. Thanks for posting this :)

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Thank you, JD Merry Christmas!

feeno said...

I agree with JD.

Merry Christmas Krusty!

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Same to you, feeno. Great to hear from you!

Tetamay said...

This post made me sad because I sympathize and share much of your feelings! Thanks for taking the time to express much of some of us feel.