As Christmas approaches, some families may get out “The Elf on the Shelf.” I had to check the internet to learn that this tradition comes from a children’s book that tells how it is that Santa knows who has been naughty or nice – with the help of this elf who watches out. No offense to those who enjoy it, but honestly, it seems a little creepy to me.
In my house, ever since last New Year’s Day, when we put away our Christmas decorations, we have had the Sheep on the Shelf. I don’t think this little sheep will tell on me to the Great Shepherd, though it has observed our home for eleven months. There have been times when we have been grumpy and grouchy and other times when we have been happy and helpful.
Our Sheep on the Shelf is there because I missed it under some couch pillows when I packed up the rest of the nativity set to which it belongs. I found it after I had taken all the boxes out to the garage, and it seemed too much of a bother to bring them back inside. So up on the shelf she went. I pick her up each Friday when I dust, so she isn’t lost, but all these months she has been separated from her flock.
She reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. The sheep doesn’t tattle to the shepherd – the shepherd rejoices that the sheep has been found. In fact, the shepherd is so concerned about the lost sheep that he leaves behind the rest of the flock to hunt for her – perhaps even before she realizes she is lost.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke place this parable in such different contexts that I picture the lost sheep differently in each of them. In Matthew, Jesus has just told the disciples that they must come as little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I picture the lost sheep as a lamb left behind by the others or perhaps one who wandered away as it explored the meadow. In Luke, on the other hand, the Pharisees have been grumbling about Jesus. There I picture the lost sheep as a feisty old ram who butts the other sheep. Regardless of whether the lost sheep is an innocent lamb or a mean old ram, the shepherd goes to look for it, and rejoices when he finds it.
Sometimes we are lost due to our own naiveté, through no fault of our own. And sometimes we are lost because we have willfully sinned. Either way, Jesus searches us out and rejoices at finding us. Ram or lamb, Jesus loves each of us.
My Sheep on the Shelf will rejoin her flock in a few weeks. This year I will pay more attention when I pack up the decorations. Yet I will kind of miss her, sitting on the shelf, reminding me that Jesus loves me – when I am naughty and when I am nice.