You will sometimes overhear clergy say rather tongue-in-cheek and partially truth-be-told, "well there's a sermon example for you." I would like to add, "well there's a Shepherd's Voice illustration for you." Effective clergy communicate through the use of story. You see this phenomenon of the use of story throughout the entire Bible. The Bible is not a lecture, nor is a sermon for that matter. Even parish magazine articles can choose to utilize story as a part of the publication. It is simply a part of my daily pattern to glimpse for daily life examples that can communicate the gospel.
If I entitled my articles this one would be "The Spiritual Lessons Learned from a Dog." First, let me confess - yes confess - that my dog Snickers and I have never been super close. Oh, we get along fine. I just do not get down on the floor and roll around and play with him. Snickers was a last-minute Humane Society rescue dog, and he is now frail due to his health. Who knows how much he could reasonably frolic before doing something unknowingly to hurt himself. Snickers is, however, fed twice a day and walked four or five times daily. Sometimes we will even walk across the Chatuge Dam at a determined, although passive, pace. From time to time, Snickers ends up with me here in Hayesville due to schedules back in Tennessee.
What are some of these spiritual lessons? Some of the most complex Seasons of the Church Year to me are Advent and Christmas. What does Snickers reveal about both of the Seasons of Advent and Christmas?
For example whatever the time is that I return from Good Shepherd to my house, Snickers is in a position facing the door patiently and eagerly waiting for me. His two front paws are stretched out towards the door in a longing, yet calm, expectation of his "master" to return. I would even portray it as a position of doggie prayer.
You know, and I have to admit, his simple act still stirs me. He is waiting. Waiting. It is not laziness. It is waiting. There is something active about this act. I guess it is inspiring to me because I am not a patient person. In this Season of Advent there is a spiritual theme of anticipation. Can you flip the scene and put yourself in Snickers' position? Can you wait patiently and prayerfully for Jesus to return? Guess what happens when your Savior returns?
The official advertisements for Christmas began in full-force back in November. They launched their presence in some of the tremendous commercial chain stores even earlier in the year. Let me put it in writing - you do not need that "stuff." As someone who has been in the process of moving for months now, the "stuff" the Choyce family has received in the way of presents is literally overwhelming. Most of those presents were from the Christmases of the past.
Is that the meaning of Christmas? Perhaps this will give us more insight into Christmas. On practically all of those walks up a certain part of the driveway, the silence has only been broken by the gentle clomping of hoofs from both the left and right side. Pastures and barns and horses dot the landscape. It is completely clear that these majestic farm animals are drawn to about ten awkward pounds of fur. They are not drawn to me; they are gazing down in a sort of reverence to simple Snickers.
What does the nativity story tell us? When we hear the birth story of Jesus, farm animals, along with the shepherds, made their way on the night of Jesus' birth to adore him. Perhaps in the mysterious and beautiful silence of that holy night, only the gentle, clomping of hoofs was heard.
Thank you, ten pounds of fur named Snickers, for showing me in a way I never imagined my Savior named Jesus.