Move those Sheep: Rethinking Christmas

Freda Howell McMahon   |   December 8, 2016 

I love Christmas. No, seriously… I truly love Christmas. While growing up, every year we would set up the Christmas tree on the first of December. Hurriedly, we would unpack the Christmas tree, and pulled out all the shoe boxes holding treasured decorations. I can still clearly picture the two little white crocheted angels that would stand in front of the Christmas tree; the brown haired one for my older sister and the blonde one for me. Then there was the ornament I bought for my younger sister, saying: Dear Santa, leave presents, take sister. The little teddy bear sitting on a green crescent moon, which my mom bought while studying in Canada. Silken tinsel balls and the red scented candle in a little white jar. Even now I remember with longing those evenings spent with lights twinkling on the Christmas tree, heater on, family around, hot gajar ka halwa in hand, followed by singing carols from the hymnal.

And then I got married. I could not believe I had married a man who did not share my passion for Christmas. He’s passionate about Jesus, but Christmas? Just another day. It’s a good thing I didn’t know this about him before we got married or I would have classified us as seriously incompatible. I needed to inject him with the highly infectious spirit of Christmas.

I realised I needed to establish our own Christmas traditions, and so I got thinking. Last year was our first Christmas with our little girl. Before Christmas came around, I ordered a children’s Christmas book for her, “God Gave us Christmas”, and wrapped it up to be opened on Christmas Eve. Before we had dinner, we sat together as a family, and my husband read out the story to us. We plan to follow this tradition in the years to come. I also spent these last two Christmases as a wife, baking and cooking to an extent that I don't remember with any fondness. We'll have less cookies available in our kitchen this year on, but more of me.

What should we add this year? I considered the addition of a nativity scene to our sparse Christmas decorations. But, I couldn't overlook the obvious and serious flaw. Firstly, how on earth does Mary look so put together? The young girl just gave birth! Now if you, on the opposite side of the screen, have given birth or visited someone who gave birth a little while ago, you know that childbirth is not a breeze. Nobody sits around kneeling with hair neatly tucked behind the ears, beaming at husband and baby. In fact, I visited one of my friends who had given birth, around three months before our baby was due. I didn’t sleep that night. She was in visible discomfort and in desperate need of rest. Yes, she was thrilled to have a baby… but utterly exhausted. She didn’t look like the Mary of the nativity scene and Christmas pageants.

And can we just take a minute and think about Joseph. My husband and I decided to have our baby where we live; in Goa. We found a hospital we liked and went for regular check-ups. After a few months, however, we learnt that the doctor wouldn’t be present at the time of delivery….just nurses. The doctor would be called from home in case of an emergency. What? I was not okay with this… at all. I wanted the doctor right there; in my line of vision. And so we went to another hospital. Same policy. Nurses do the delivery, and doctor is called if there’s an emergency. Plus, this doctor put me off by his mocking attitude towards my numerous questions. Next hospital... I don’t even remember what was wrong, but something was. Finally, we settled with our fourth doctor and hospital. My husband had a very ‘I trust in God to give us a safe delivery wherever we are’ attitude, but he knew better than to convince me to have a baby with no doctor around. Now going back to Joseph; I am certain that he too would have liked to give his wife the best possible care that was available at that time, but the only thing available was a manger.

Even though a manger lends itself to making a beautiful nativity scene, there would have been nothing pretty about giving birth there. Nothing. The last thing you want is a cow staring at you, as you’re lying with your legs spread, pushing to get a person out of you. Joseph would have been working hard to make things as comfortable and sanitary as possible for his wife and newborn.

And then there’s the question of the animals. Why are they all so close to baby Jesus in the nativity scene? Move them away. Nobody wants a newborn being licked by sheep.

The wise men? They heard about Jesus’ birth the night He was born, and then set out on a journey. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus weren’t all sitting in position, patiently waiting for them to arrive.

And so, I don’t think we’re going to get a traditional nativity scene; it misrepresents the truth of Christmas. The truth that the Saviour of the world didn’t have a romantic birth. Mary was in an unknown place, with no mother to hold her hand. Joseph was concerned about providing a proper place to rest for his family. Jesus was born with no material comforts at hand. His life wasn’t characterised by physical comforts (Matt. 8:20). Even His death was marked with a level of pain few of us will ever know; "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

I want my family to remember to pass on the priceless gift we received in Jesus, knowing that it is better to give than receive (Acts 20:35). In that spirit, we will intentionally make December a month of giving; of demonstrating love in practical ways. I don’t want my child (God willing, children, some day) to grow up thinking that Christmas is about her getting more, but rather remembering she has all she needs. And I want us as parents to remember the same.

And so, as Christmas rolls around once again, we will remember to be thankful. As we peer into the farm next to our house, and see the cows, dogs, cocks, hens, and pigs, we will thank God for giving us a house. We will thank Him for choosing to live with us. Emmanuel, God with us, we pray that you may always dwell in our hearts. Enable us to share your love with other, this Christmas and always. All we need for Christmas is You!


Photo Credit: Unsplash

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Freda Howell McMahon

Freda McMahon lives in a little Goan village with her husband and two daughters. She is a counsellor by profession, a homeschooling mom, and in constant need of God’s grace. Dark chocolate with sea salt, good conversation and solitude are a few of her favourites.

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4 comments on “Move those Sheep: Rethinking Christmas”

  1. Freda, well said. So often we get sucked into all the wonderful preparation for the holiday season and forget that Jesus is the centre of it.

  2. You penned the thoughts going on in my mind so well. Specially the background me and hubby come from being similar to what u mentioned. But at the end of the day, we should ensure, we pass on the pure Christmas , unadulterated, where Christ is the center.

  3. Thanks, Ruchika! Glad you could relate to my predicament 🙂 May God help us pass on the pure, unadulterated version of Christmas!

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