Back in March, I saw a photo on Facebook that made me fall in love.
I had seen many pictures of dogs in need of homes before, but something about this particular one caught my attention in a special way. I just knew this was my dog.
She had been found by a church friend, most likely abandoned by her former family, and my friend couldn’t keep her because of her own dogs. I knew I had to give this dog a home. My husband said there was no way we needed another dog.
So when we got her, we named her Sybil (after Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey, one of our favorite TV shows).
She had some issues when she first moved into our home: digging into the trash cans, forgetting to do her business outside, barking at nothing, aggravating our other dog, chewing on shoes, trying to escape the fence in the backyard. (I have to say she has worked through most of these issues by now.)
But there was a time when one of her “bad habits” paid off for us.
I have a tiny nativity set that my mother gave me once upon a time that I set out every Christmas. Last year, I set it on an end table in our living room and my son, who was four years old at the time, would rearrange and play with the pieces. That was all well and good until after Christmas when we started packing up the decorations and we noticed that the Baby Jesus was missing.
You can’t really have a nativity without Baby Jesus, right?
We looked everywhere for Baby Jesus, who was the tiniest piece of our tiny nativity. We pulled off couch cushions, moved the couch, checked every nook and cranny. Baby Jesus was nowhere to be found.
Shortly after Sybil moved in, nearly three months later, we noticed she was chewing on something small. My husband pulled it out of her mouth. There were a few doggie teeth scratches but, you guessed it, Baby Jesus.
She had done what two adults and a child couldn’t: she found Jesus.
There seems to be an overriding theme for me this year at Christmas. It’s been a year full of change for our family, and we face a December of uncertainty for multiple reasons. Being a work-at-home mom has its challenges already, and when you add on the stress of the holiday season, the days can be difficult. And that makes it hard to focus on the meaning of the season.
I decided weeks ago after reading a devotion on the topic that I would strive to be more “others-focused” this Christmas season. We’ve done a decent job of that and have some other plans to reach out to others. But even more than that, I want to be Christ-focused.
In the middle of all the gift-buying and giving.
With a calendar filled with Christmas programs and parties.
Among the every-day stresses that have nothing to do with the season.
I want to be like that little dog in my house and find Jesus.
So what can a sweet, crazy dog teach us about the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus Himself?
1) He can be found easily.
We looked and looked everywhere we knew to look for that figurine, to no avail. The dog wasn’t even particularly looking for it when she found it. But it was easily accessible.
If we stop being so busy and running around like the proverbial chickens, we will find Jesus easily. He’s always there. It’s not hard to focus on Him if we just allow ourselves to do it. But instead, everything else gets in the way.
One thing I’m doing new this year is focusing more on Advent, anticipating Christmas not as it relates to gifts and food, but as it relates to the excitement of Jesus’ birth and its purpose. We are doing weekly devotions, writing daily verses on our white board, and trying to reach out to someone else at least once a week. Just to take the focus off of the commercialism and chaos of Christmas.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
-Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
2) He might be where you least expect Him.
We just assumed that Baby Jesus was somewhere near where the rest of the nativity was, but perhaps that is where we made our mistake. With a small child around the house, it could have been taken anywhere…literally ANYWHERE! We are still not sure where Sybil found it.
As believers, we expect to find Jesus at church, maybe on a more religious TV program. But do we expect to find Him at the soup kitchen? In a nursing home? At the mall? Even prison?
One Christmas Eve several years ago, I went with a group from my church to serve food and sing at a local prison. We sang songs from our Christmas program that year and provided a delicious dinner of lasagna, garlic bread, and Krispy Kreme donuts. Our pastor brought a gospel message. I can tell you, the presence of Jesus was as evident in that place as it is in a Spirit-filled church on Sunday morning.
We can be the hands and feet of Jesus anywhere. We just have to be open to allowing Him to lead us there. I’m looking for opportunities to find Jesus and BE Jesus in the most unexpected places this year. Will you?
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
3) Christmas is incomplete without Him.
I don’t think I would have been able to put out the tiny nativity if we had not recovered it’s most important piece. Not this year, not ever again.
And just as a nativity is not complete without the Christ Child, this season is the same. I know there are non-believers who celebrate Christmas without Jesus. But for the follower of Christ, He should not just be a part, but truly the whole.
I’m so guilty of making Him such a small part sometimes, aren’t you? It is said that Jesus’ birthday is the only one for which other people get gifts. What if just one year we committed our Christmas budget only to Him? Giving to His church and other ministries. Spending money on kind acts for others.
What if we skipped the stress of figuring out the right gift (or any gift) to give to that person on our list, and instead bought a gift for someone who may not receive one from anywhere else? Maybe instead of just that “one more toy” for our child that will be forgotten within days anyway, we could buy a toy for a child that would make his or her Christmas infinitely more special.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t exchange gifts, for that is a truly personal decision…but, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind forgoing gifts for me to help someone else be blessed this Christmas.
And it doesn’t even have to involve spending money. A morning at a soup kitchen. Volunteering at a children’s shelter. Caroling at a nursing home. Or sharing all those baked goodies we don’t need to eat anyway with the firefighters, police officers, or medical workers who have to be away from their families on Christmas. So many opportunities.
This Christmas has opened my eyes to the possibilities there are to bless others. It all started months ago with a little dog who found Jesus.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
-Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
And in all the hustle and chaos I don’t want to miss the most important thing about our reason for celebrating. I want to bask in the miracle that happened on that Bethlehem night, when a holy and perfect God loved us so much that He became one of us, wrapping all of His glory and majesty in human flesh. All so that He could set us free from the prison of sin where we so many times insist on abiding. Freedom was born that day. Peace and hope were born that day. Love was born that day.
I shouldn’t need a dog to remember that.
Love in Christ,
What about you? I would love to read some ways you are trying to be more Christ-focused and others-focused this year at Christmas. Drop a line in the comments below!