In a Christmas letter this year, a friend whose pet cat had died recounted how she noticed a calico cat roaming her property. It was “small, skinny, and timid.” She didn’t take it into her house but let it return to the woods. Regularly the cat came around, and the woman brought it lunch by the big oak. Soon the cat grew stronger and bigger, better able to survive the winter. My friend wished that all the “calico cats” in her life were as easy to make happy and secure. Plenty of people need attention and care.
Yes, there are poor immigrants, the sick, and the incarcerated who call out for help. But in our inner circles, there may also be people who are lost and feeling rejected: a family member, a coworker, or a neighbor. We can “feed” them with a phone call, an invitation, or even just a friendly word. By doing this we are Godlike, for God reached out often. At Christmas he reached out to poor shepherds.
In Israel at that time, shepherds not only were lower class but had a bad reputation. They were thought to be untrustworthy and had no civil rights. They also probably smelled. Nevertheless, God sent an army of angels to these social outcasts—of all people—to proclaim that the Messiah was born. The shepherds then became the first eyewitnesses of the incarnation other than Mary and Joseph.
This outreach to shepherds is against the backdrop of an even more impressive act of God’s mercy. God planted us human beings on this rock in the universe that we call Earth. After our race turned against our Creator, we were mired in sin and its effects: sadness, suffering, death, and hopelessness. Then our compassionate God reached out to us in a remarkable way. He saved us by joining us on Earth as Jesus. He adopted us wayward children and restored our inheritance. He befriended us the way my friend extended love to the stray calico cat.
Jesus himself constantly paid attention to the lowly, the forgotten, and the despised: lepers who were shunned, sinful women who were scorned, children who were overlooked, and a despised tax collector in a tree. On the cross with his dying breaths Jesus assured the criminal hanging next to him that he was forgiven.
In preaching, Jesus even raised the status of shepherds. Not only did he tell a poignant parable about a shepherd that seeks out a lost lamb, but he called himself a shepherd—the Good Shepherd.
This Christmas, the best gift you can give someone might be a little attention.
When has someone raised your spirits by thoughtful caring?