Just Some Simple Shepherds

Dec. 21, 2012

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. – Luke 2:8

Being a shepherd wasn’t a fun job. It wasn’t what most young boys aspired to be. It was stinky, dirty and demanding. Sheep don’t take a day off and so it’s difficult to take time off. But it was a job.

A couple weeks ago, Midland hosted our “Live Nativity,” where we recreate the Christmas story in a barn. To make it more authentic, we had some sheep. The most popular one was Katie. Born early, Katie is not a normal sheep. She’s very friendly and loves to be with people. Katie’s owners, Vince and Nancy, encouraged us to just let Katie wonder around the barn. She would be the hit of the show … and she was.

Whenever someone walked to the front of the barn or to the back, her little hoofs clicked in step as she followed folks. When the shepherds went on stage by Mary and Joseph, so did Katie. She’s the kind of sheep a shepherd would love: gentle, easy-going and friendly.

Most sheep are skittish. They like to be in packs and keep together with other sheep. Most sheep when singled out are not quite sure what to do. After the nativity, we were loading up the sheep other than Katie. One got away. Having raised sheep, I quickly knew this was going to be a challenge. We spent the next 30 minutes trying to catch her. Just about the time we had her cornered, she would dart through. Add to this, a few inches of wet snow and we and the sheep were sliding all over the yard. Had not a young man stopped and hung on for dear life, I’m not sure how we would have caught her. She just wasn’t familiar with us.

It was another long, cold night along the hillsides in Bethlehem. The shepherds took turns handling the night watch. Little did they know this night would not be like any other night. The most unlikely people to be the first to hear about the Messiah’s birth, it was no accident God chose shepherds. This Messiah would be for all people, even the simplest and lowly shepherds. This Messiah would accept all kinds of sheep and love them just the way they are.  This is a Messiah that would change the world.

Lord God – Certainly the shepherds were not expecting heavenly visitors. They were nameless, simple men and boys who were just taking care of their sheep. The sheep were very familiar and comfortable with them, much like Katie. Yet they were patient with the skittish ones also. Help us see Jesus as our shepherd who watches over us daily. Amen.

Blessings –


When Life is Unfair

Dec. 20, 2012

He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.  While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.   – Luke 2:5-7

Sometimes, life does not turn out as expected.

Case in point: Mary and Joseph. They got engaged the right way only to have their lives turned upside down because of a couple angel visits. Joseph does the right thing and marries his pregnant finance despite the baby not being his. I imagine Joseph telling Mary, “We’re going to make it. Hang in there.”

One day a Roman government representative shows up in Nazareth and announces the Emperor has requested a census. Every man must go to his hometown to be counted and taxed. I imagine Mary’s response being something like, “You’ve got to be kidding! I’m nine months pregnant and now I have to travel to Bethlehem?”

They make the trek. The shortest route is 80 miles; the longest about 100. Either way, it would have taken a minimum of 10 days to travel the hilly, rocky path. We’re not sure Mary had a donkey to ride. It’s a detail we’ve added.

Finally, they get to Bethlehem. We imagine Joseph showing up at the local chain hotel without a reservation only to discover every room  was taken. But this is not how it happened. Most likely, Joseph had family living in Bethlehem. Travelers stayed with family or strangers and depended upon this hospitality. Because of the census, Joseph’s out-of-town family members were also in Bethlehem.

I like this translation of this story because it says the “guestroom” was full. Hebrew homes were very small, usually four rooms. People entered through the kitchen which was also the dining room and common area. Next was the family sleeping quarters. A third room was the kataluma  or the guestroom, where visitors and guests stayed. It appears Joseph’s family kataluma was full with out-of-town guests. The fourth room was the family stable. This is where the milk cow and sheep were housed. It was also the garage, where the family’s transportation, a donkey, was housed. With other family members present, the garage was probably full. But this is where Mary and Joseph go. This is where baby Jesus is born.

When Mary discovered she was pregnant, do you think she envisioned traveling to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy? Do you think she anticipated giving birth in the family garage? Do you think she expected every bed would be full so that a feeding trough would be her new baby’s cradle? Not exactly what a first-time Mom expected. Would have she not asked God what she did wrong? Life did not turn out as Mary planned.

Many times, I’ve contemplated how my life has turned out different from what I expected when I graduated from college. When I read the obituary I wrote for my high school senior social studies class, none of this has happened. Sometimes I regress and wonder why my life end up so different. I selfishly blame God and wonder what I did wrong.

There are a whole bunch of people in Newton, Connecticut whose lives were awfully and dramatically changed last week. How do they go on? What did they do wrong? It doesn’t seem fair and it isn’t.

How did Mary make it through unexpected life changes? How can we? By choosing to believe there is something beyond the disappointment we are experiencing. By anticipating that someday, we will have joy once again, even if it seems a long way off. By knowing and believing that there is One who journeys with us even when life turns out so different from what we expect.

Lord God – when life turns out not how we expect, it is easy to blame you. I can’t imagine how Mary’s feeling those last days of her pregnancy. How could she not feel let down or disappointed? Yet, a baby was born. Emmanuel came to this earth. Just as you, God, were with Mary in those challenging times, please be present with us when life takes us on unexpected journeys. Amen.

Blessings –


Where is Home?

Dec. 19, 2012

Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.            – Luke 2:3-4

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin but attended high school in Augusta. While I was in college, my parents moved into Augusta. Technically, I haven’t lived in this community for over 25 years. Yet before I was married, it bothered my Mom when I would say I was coming to their house. She wanted me to say that I was “coming home.” It was difficult for her to hear that I no longer called their house “home.”

Joseph is from Bethlehem. He’s going to his hometown. Whether he was living there or not, it’s where his family is from. As a descendent of King David, his family took great pride in being from the same town as this most famous king.

But this time when he returns to Bethlehem, things are different. His fiancée, Mary is pregnant. He’s not the father but will people believe him if he’d said, “It’s not my fault. God got her pregnant.” Hardly.

Sometimes going “home” is exciting and fun. We get to see people we may not see often, visit places we remember from our childhood. I’m thinking Joseph was not all that excited to go back to Bethlehem. So much has happened and it’s not easy to explain. But he didn’t have a choice. Caesar made the decision for him. He had to suck it up and do the right thing. Maybe he was more concerned what to do with his very pregnant fiancée, Mary. The baby could come any time. What would he do?

While our addresses may change, our identity is always rooted in you, Lord God. As members of your family, may we see ourselves at home in your loving and caring arms. This is our home. May this place be a safe refuge for us. Amen.

Blessings –


Taking Advantage of a Census

Dec. 18, 2012

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria.           – Luke 2:1-2

The author of Luke’s gospel sets the timetable for us. Caesar was the head-honcho of Roman Government. He ruled for about 33 years. We have a clearer understanding of when Jesus was born because we’re also told it was while Quirinius was in power.

Apparently, Caesar felt the Roman government was having a cash flow problem. Caesar loved to build and he needed more money. One way to get cash would be to demand a census. As people were counted, additional taxes could be assessed.

The edict went out that every man had to return to the town of his ancestors. Joseph’s family comes from the line of King David. King David’s hometown is Bethlehem. Joseph is in Nazareth with Mary. Mary is very pregnant but Caesar didn’t care that she would have to withstand a 10-day journey being nine months pregnant. So, off Mary and Joseph go.

Didn’t God realize this journey would be terribly difficult for Mary? Why didn’t God just let the baby be born in Nazareth? Could have God changed Caesar’s mind and have him delay the census? Yes, God could have done any of these things. Instead, God took the situation of Caesar’s desire for more money and used it to God’s advantage so that Joseph could be born in David’s city.

At the time, I would guess Mary and Joseph were exasperated that they were going to have to make this long journey. Once again, we see where God has a much broader and wider understanding of God’s kingdom. We see God using the situation at hand (Caesar’s desire for taxes) as an opportunity to God’s prophecy to be fulfilled. Quite ingenious, isn’t God? With God, all things are possible. Amen.

Lord God – When difficulties loom before us, it is so easy to get anxious and frustrated and distracted. But in those moments, remind us Lord God that you can work through even seemingly ridiculous situations. If you can turn a census into an opportunity to fulfill prophecy, we can’t image what you could do with our lives. Amen.

Blessings –


Crossing Generations

Dec. 17, 2012

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.             – Luke 1:56

It might have been strange for Mary to stay with Elizabeth for the first trimester of her pregnancy. It could have easily been justified that Mary was there to help her elder cousin during the last trimester of her pregnancy until Elizabeth’s baby was born. What this sentence says to me is that a special bond developed between Elizabeth and Mary.

Many years ago, I moved to Baraboo and joined a United Methodist Church. My maiden name was Deaton, which is not a terribly common name. On the day I joined the church, John and Lyla came up to me and wanted to know if I was related to the Deaton’s from Augusta, WI. I shared that I was a Deaton from Augusta. They were so excited to meet me after many, many years. Lyla had grown up in Augusta and knew my parents. She also knew that her parents and my parents had been close friends years earlier.

My folks moved to Wisconsin in the early 1960’s. They became involved in a small church in Augusta. There, they met Lyla’s parents, Frankie and Earnest. My parents were young parents with no family close by. Frankie and Earnest were the age of grandparents. They developed a special friendship with my folks and often did things together.

Years later, I developed a special relationship with Lyla and John. After I was married, Rick and I often did things with Lyla and John. Just as my parents and Lyla’s parents had a special relationship, this developed again between Rick and me with John and Lyla, even though in both instances there was at least a generation difference.

There was at least a generation difference between Mary and Elizabeth. Yet, this was not a hindrance to their relationship. It is special when this happens. Friendship is not dependent only upon age. For Mary and Elizabeth, they also didn’t let geographic location hinder them. As we draw closer to Christmas, is there a person of another generation (older or younger) that you can reach out to? In the spirit of Mary and Elizabeth, may we see what an important part of society it is to have relationships with other generations.

Lord God – Thank you for bringing people of different generations into our lives. May we value and appreciate those people who are important to us that do not live close by yet we feel a connection with. Help us appreciate and value those relationships. Amen.

Blessings –


Just a Few Stickers

Dec. 15, 2012

Mary said, “He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestor, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

– Luke 1:51-55

In Mary’s words, we see a message that is repeated multiple times throughout Jesus’ life. God is much more interested in the humble than the proud. God honors the lowly rather than the powerful. God reaches out to the hungry and not the rich.

These words would have been as counter-cultural 2,000 years ago as they are today. Society promotes power, success and wealth. Even before Jesus is born, Mary sets the stage in her song. Whatever society has promoted and encouraged is not really what God’s kingdom is all about. It’s a message Jesus will repeat and repeat:

“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.”

–         Matthew 5:5

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

–         Matthew 20:16

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take uptheir cross daily and follow me.

–         Luke 9:23

While in Argentina, Kristin and I visited an orphanage. We had taken along backpacks, school supplies and clothes for the kids. One afternoon, we made crafts with the kids. They weren’t very fancy crafts but simple turkeys, necklaces and small Christmas decorations.  It was clear to us how much the kids enjoyed these little items. As we were cleaning up, kids discovered sheets with three or four unused stickers on them. Several kids ask Kristin and me if they could keep a page of stickers “just for themselves.” They wanted some all of their

I was so humbled to imagine that three or four stickers are all these kids might have to call their own. Everything else they share: their clothing, bedrooms, school supplies and basically everything else. Could I imagine only having a few crafts and stickers that I could rightly claim as my

Early in Luke’s gospel we hear through Mary one of the main messages of Jesus’ ministry. God looks at the world very differently from society. Jesus’ life would represent God’s view of this kingdom. Now if only we could begin to see our world, live our lives and make choices that reflect God’s

Lord God – So easily, we place importance on the things of this world. Even before baby Jesus made his entrance into the world, his mother Mary shares with us joyfully and excitedly Jesus’ role for coming. Help us continue to see how radical Jesus’ message is and then how we might reflect this message in our daily lives. 

Blessings –


Wisdom in Waiting

Dec. 14, 2012


Mary said, “He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me high favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. – Luke 1:48-50


It’s been several days since Mary discovered she was carrying the Messiah. She’s had a bit of time to get her head around what is going on her in life. As she sings this praise song to God, we get a glimpse into her perspective.


Mary realizes that she’s just an ordinary girl carrying an extra-ordinary baby. She sees this as a pure blessing. She realizes this baby will change future generations.


When big news comes into my life, one thing I try to do is push the pause button. It’s easy to have a quick reaction. Too often, after I react this way, I find myself wishing I would have waited. Sometimes, my poor choice for reacting has a future impact; sometimes not the kind of impact I’d really desire. When I give myself some time to get my head around the situation, I generally think more carefully and thoughtfully. Time, rest and sometimes consultation with another person help me see through the situation. Of course, time in prayer seeking God’s wisdom always makes sense also.


My family has been moving towards some decisions relating to my Dad this week. When it came time to initiate the plan yesterday, I think we felt these were the right decisions because we had worked through them. While these decisions are impactful and not easy, they made sense. At the end of the day, I believe we were thankful. We know there will be additional decisions. Having a way to work through them and reach agreement has been beneficial. For this, like Mary, I thank God for the mercy we are extended daily.


Lord God – It’s so easy to make knee-jerk reactions. Yes, Mary traveled to see Elizabeth. But it also appears she was thoughtful and sought God’s guidance and wisdom. May we follow this model as we journey through life. Amen.


Blessings –


“Magnifico” Moments

Dec. 13, 2012

Mary said, “With all my heart I glory the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.” – Luke 1:46-47

Thanksgiving week, my friend Kristin and I traveled to Argentina. While there, we visited several schools, discovering what life is like in Argentina and sharing some about American life.

At one school, we visited the kindergarten class. We were about two-and-a half hours west of Buenos Aires, the central agricultural area of Argentina. In this region, the weather is always very temperate. It rarely freezes. It was 90 degrees and the end of spring while we were there. In contrast, Kristin explained that our winter is just beginning and where we live, it gets very cold and typically we have lots and lots of snow.

One articulate and quite dramatic boy raised his hand and wanted to interrupt Kristin. During Argentina’s previous winter, his family had traveled to the south of Argentina where there is snow. This was the first time he had seen snow. Very animated, he explained to his classmates how absolutely wonderful snow is. He got to feel it, taste it, and play in it. His explanation crescendoed as he wanted his school friends to know that snow is just plain “magnifico!”

That would be magnificent in English. Even though my Spanish skills are limited, even I understood what a big deal this was to our new little friend.

Elizabeth has just shared with Mary how excited she is for her. Mary is the mother of Elizabeth’s Lord! This is absolutely the best news ever! Mary is so touched by Elizabeth’s response, she breaks out into song. These next several verses in Luke’s Gospel are often called Mary’s Magnificat. So overwhelmed by the events of the past few days, Mary cannot help herself. She simply must glorify God with all of her heart.

Often, we get excited about Christmas. Sometimes, we even get overwhelmed with the preparations and tradition. But do we allow ourselves to be so overcome with the outstanding news that our Lord was born? Do we get so excited about the Messiah’s coming that we just must break out into song? Do we get nearly as excited about this good news as my new little Argentinian friend did about telling his schoolmates how “magnifico” snow is?

My husband Rick has a way of taking my little stories and applying them to our daily lives. When I ask him about his day, his new favorite answer is, “Magnifico!” Even on the challenging and difficult days, may we be amazed at how “magnifico” our Savior’s birth really is.

Lord God – Rather than getting overwhelmed this Advent, help us to pause and see just how “magnifico” this special season is. Help us to find “magnifico” moments multiple times throughout the day. Amen.

Blessings –


Elizabeth the Mentor

Dec. 12, 2012

Elizabeth said “Why do I have this honor that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  – Luke 1:43-45

Most biblical scholars believe Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived in the town of Ein Karem, about 80 miles from the village of Nazareth. Ein Karem is closer to Jerusalem than to Nazareth.

While the journey from Nazareth to Ein Karem would have taken several days, it would have been virtually impossible for Elizabeth to discover Mary’s news before she arrived. Yet as soon as this teenager enters her house, Elizabeth is so excited. She knows Mary is the person carrying the Messiah.

Elizabeth isn’t disappointed Mary received this great honor rather than herself. While Elizabeth has waited and waited for her baby, Mary is in a different situation. Elizabeth is just as excited about Mary’s baby, maybe even more excited, than she is for her own baby.

It is weeks before the arrival of her baby. Elizabeth would have been knee-deep in preparations. She might not have had a lot of extra time. Nonetheless, Elizabeth quickly understands she is to be a mentor to Mary. With years of experience, she could be a source of encouragement, perspective and wisdom for Mary.

We all need an older mentor/guide in our lives, an Elizabeth. This older person understands, guides and affirms us. I’ve had a variety of Elizabeth’s in my life. I’m also at the stage when I need to be an Elizabeth to other people and help them discover God’s purpose for their life. Mentoring blesses the one who is being mentored. It also blesses the one mentoring. While Mary was blessed being in Elizabeth’s home, it is also clear that Elizabeth considers it a great honor for Mary’s presence. That’s why she is the first person to call Jesus, “Lord.”

Lord God – Thank you for the folks who have mentored and guided me. Allow me the maturity and wisdom to know when I can step out and help someone.  Make it clear whom I might mentor. Amen.

Blessings –


God’s Perspective on Blessings

Dec. 11, 2012

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice, she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.”  – Luke 1:41-42

What are blessings? We often think of money, having a home or material possessions. Sometimes we think of family and friends, security or health as blessings.

Twice in Elizabeth’s greeting, she calls Mary and the child she is carrying “blessed.” Mary’s blessings were not based on material possessions. Her blessedness came from being used in God’s plan. Because she was being used by God for God’s kingdom, Elizabeth proclaims her as “blessed.”

What is amazing is while Elizabeth sees Mary’s situation as a blessing, few others would. Would she still feel blessed as people whispered about her pregnancy out of wedlock? Would she feel blessed after trying to explain to Joseph her precarious situation? As she journeyed through Jesus’ life, would “blessed” be the first word to tumble off her lips as she described her life with the Messiah?

Rick often reminds me of how blessed we are. And he is right. In the last few weeks, three of our four parents have had significant changes in their health. Yet, just a couple days ago, Rick reiterated how blessed we are. Overwhelmed, yes, but also blessed. Often God’s blessings also include adversity. I am reminded again that God’s blessings are not about ease and comfort. God’s blessings allow us to be a part of the work of God’s kingdom. This is how Mary was blessed by God and how we can be blessed.

I think it was imperative for the first person Mary discussed her pregnancy with to completely support and encourage Mary. Elizabeth does this and more. Within a few days of discovering her pregnancy, she is lovingly blessed by her relative Elizabeth. What a relief this must have been for Mary. She has someone who will love and support and try to relate to her. What a blessing!

Lord God – Too often we focus on the anxieties of life rather than the blessings. Most often, they go hand-in-hand. When we face adversity, I pray that we will be able to trust you, Lord God, and allow you to take the situation and bring a blessing out of it. May we see the great opportunity we have to be a blessing when God uses us. Amen.

Blessings –