Thursday, December 12, 2019

Two Stable Stories and the Helper

I want to share two Christmas picture books today. They both veer slightly from the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth in the manger, yet provide an added thought we can ponder this Advent season.

A Shepherd’s Gift by Mary Calhoun with illustrations by Raúl Colón is the story of a young shepherd boy named Matthew. One day the little sheep in his care wanders off. He goes in search of the lamb and discovers her in a stable. That’s when he noticed a man and a woman and a little baby resting in the hay. He wonders what they are doing and asks, “Can I help you here?” They too accept his help, and even his small but precious gift of the little lamb. When he leaves to return to the sheep camp, 
. . .a light shone on his way. He thought he heard voices. They seemed to be singing about that wonderful child who knew him, an ordinary shepherd.
Who Built the Stable? by Ashley Bryan is based on a Nativity poem he wrote by the same name. It is an account of a small shepherd boy-turned carpentry apprentice who builds the stable for his animals. One day he happens upon weary travelers Mary and Joseph, and like the young shepherd, asks them: “Can I help you?” They accept his help and are led to warmth and shelter to await Jesus’ birth. He continues to help with the manger and the straw, then then when dawn appears, the baby Jesus is born.
The boy booked in the infant’s eyes
And in his heart he know:
The babe would be a carpenter.
He’d be a shepherd too.
Both boys left the stable forever changed. By offering to stop and help, they were sacrificing their time, their talents, their possessions. What made them choose to say, “What can I do to help?”?

Maybe they recognized, in a sacred moment, that the baby would indeed grow up to be both Carpenter and Shepherd, the Good King Helper who would come to save His people from sin and death. They offered their help as worship. But how could they have known? The prophet Isaiah would have showed them:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
    double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
- Isaiah 40:1-5
There is a lot of emphasis this time of year about helping each other in the name of Christmas cheer. Yet we know the real reason: Our Help has come. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, nearly 2000 years ago. But He came not just as a baby, He came to help us know the way.

If we feel inadequate before Him, do not worry. Respond like the little shepherd and young carpenter in today's stories. Worship Him with what you have. Your hands and feet, your help and love.

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