Our granddaughter couldn't have been more than three that Christmas. Suddenly she appeared in the living room, carrying a long, empty wrapping paper tube.
"What's that for, angel?"
"I'm a shepherd," she announced emphatically. Silly me. Of course she was a shepherd. I should have known from the "shepherd's staff" in her hand.
"Well, Miss Shepherd - what are you doing today?"
Her answer went right to my heart. "I'm looking for my lost sheep."
I thought to myself, "Man, that's what this Christmas thing is really all about!"
My little angel/shepherd was, without knowing it, echoing the words of Jesus Himself. When He announced the reason for the Manger. For leaving the glories of heaven for this little speck in the universe. And ultimately the reason for that Cross where He allowed men He had created to nail Him to a tree He had created.
So Jesus declared that His rescue mission here was "to seek and to save what was lost." Lost - like I was.
Without knowing it, my little granddaughter with the wrapping paper tube was a living picture of who Jesus said He was. "I am the Good Shepherd."
I grew up on the south side of Chicago. We didn't have many sheep there. But since the Bible repeatedly says we're like sheep, I've learned a lot about them. My Navajo daughter-in-love grew up shepherding them. I even own a couple now.
And a couple of things are pretty predictable about these sweaters with legs. First, they wander away from the shepherd. And the Bible says about us two-legged "sheep" - "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way" (Isaiah 53:6).
Second, a sheep away from the shepherd is "lost." I have to admit, that word is all too descriptive of how so many of us feel. Lost, as in "I don't know why I'm here. I don't really know where I'm going - now and after I die. I'm looking for something that's never been anywhere I've looked."
Lost is dangerous. On a reservation, I met 80-year-old Elizabeth who had been shepherding sheep since she was a little girl. Her face was deeply wrinkled, deeply bronzed from all those years with the flock.
I asked her, "What happens to a sheep when it gets away from the shepherd?" Her eyes narrowed as she immediately replied with one word - "Coyotes."
And so it has been with us human "sheep." In our wandering and searching, we've been hurt and used, diminished and devalued.
One other lesson I've learned about sheep. They don't find the shepherd. Their only hope of getting home is if the shepherd comes looking for them.
Enter Christmas. That baby in the hay is God come looking for us. For me. For you.
That sinless Man on the cross is Him paying the price to get us back - by absorbing all the dying, all the pain, all the hell of our sin against Him. Or, as the Bible says, "Christ died once for all us guilty sinners...that He might bring us safely home to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
This is the love that has captured my heart. The one love I'll never lose. This will be my fourth Christmas without my precious Karen. I miss her even more this time of year. But this love I found in Jesus - that's my anchor love. Unloseable love.
I know we'll be hearing the familiar strains of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" again this season.
But for someone tired of "lost," that will be more than a lyric from a song. They will finally be really "home" for Christmas. In the love and the relationship they have been looking for all their life. With the God who is home for the human heart.
The Shepherd is still "looking for His lost sheep."
Especially at Christmas.