“The Importance of Shepherds,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 58
It could have been a lonely time for Mary, Joseph, and the Child, away from home and family. Although they had each other, it wasn’t particularly a favorable place for the bringing forth of a firstborn son—off in Bethlehem, paying taxes, and with “no room at the inn.”
And so the Father sent shepherds—he called on humble, earthbound workers to add celebration to the birth of his son. They were the ones who heard “good tidings of great joy,” that saw “this thing which is come to pass,” and that made “known abroad the saying which was told them. …” [Luke 2:10, 15, 17]
Christmas still needs shepherds. Some people need to have shepherds; all of us need to be shepherds—people sharing the joy of our Savior’s birth with each other.
Schoolteacher Barbara Gruman has been unable to spend the past several Christmases with her family in Schenectady, New York. One year when she was in Boston, she helped organize a party for underprivileged children, then met with other single people away from home to spend Christmas Eve on Boston’s Lewisburg Square. They opened presents together that Christmas morning.
“My philosophy,” she says, “is that celebrating Christmas without your family can happen to everybody sooner or later. A lot of people in my home ward in Schenectady, even though they have families of their own, are originally from the western United States, where the major portion of their families are for Christmas, so they really feel as if they’re far from home.”
Lorin Folland, a single Salt Lake City artist, uses art to personalize and specialize Christmas. “Christmas is the time when we use art so much, and it expresses how we feel,” he says. Brother Folland decorates his downstairs art gallery and designs a different tree every year. He buys a gift for each of his nieces and nephews and wraps it in the same decor as the tree; they are all invited over for a Christmas dinner he cooks himself. Afterwards he entertains the children with an illustrated story.
Expanding Christmas outside his family, Brother Folland also treats the children in his neighborhood. “I think the main thing is not to be concerned with yourself,” he says. “I’ve always had a great time with the neighborhood kids, too. I make stockings for all of them, fill them with fruit and toys, and take them around on Christmas day.”
“No one has any reason to be lonely at Christmas,” agrees Gretta Croft, a retired Salt Lake social worker. She invites her brothers’ and sisters’ families to her home for a buffet dinner, or she participates with them in a progressive dinner, so the families can see everyone else’s Christmas decorations. Although she involves herself with such family activities, Sister Croft recognizes that some people who are alone need encouragement to attend Christmas events.
“Sometimes lonely people will refuse invitations when they really want to go, because they are so used to not going that they won’t go. Church members need to encourage them,” she says. “This problem is sometimes even greater with older people than with teenagers going through a shy stage.”
Bishop Spencer Nilson and his wife of Salt Lake City Monument Park Third Ward, Salt Lake Foothill Stake, organize a party every year. Last year they took members of their ward who didn’t have families out to dinner and then to a Brigham Young University concert. “It’s something many of them would not have done on their own,” Bishop Nilson explains.
These are just a few of the may shepherds who “keep watch” at Christmas. Actually there are scores of them everywhere—priesthood quorums, bishoprics, Young Women’s classes, friends, neighbors, relatives. They include anyone caught up in the Christmas spirit who says, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem. …” [Luke 2:15]