A Shepherd Dog in Church
Ziggy came to church on Christmas Eve. Ziggy is an Australian cattle dog, with big ears and a rough red and gray coat. He is a year old, but appears older, partly because of the gray in his fur, but mostly because of his wise brown eyes. He watched and listened as we stood and sat and prayed and sang, as if he understood all of it. He checked out the creche near the altar, and much to his master Darren's relief he did not lift a leg, or chew one of the stuffed animals our congregation warms up the white porcelain nativity tableau with, although he was very interested in a plush fox.
St. Michael and All Angels is a very small Episcopal mission that meets in the lobby of the Chilkat Center, and sometimes I wish it were bigger, especially at Christmas. It would be fun if there were more of us, and if we had a choir, and pews and timbered beams and stained glass. But this Christmas Eve I was very glad that we sat on chairs we set up in the art center lobby, and that the music came from Nancy Nash and her piano in the back, and that when she asked four us that are in the community women's choir to sing "Come All Ye Shepherds" we knew the harmony and the words. It was also nice to be small enough to welcome a brother and a sister and their dog. Darren and Melina had been over at the Nashes celebrating, and when they all departed for midnight mass, decided to join them. Jan, our priest, waved Ziggy in when Darren started to take him back out. (Ziggy did not want to wait outside in the steadily falling snow.)Then Jan gave her homily about him.
She said that the shepherds were the first ones the angels told about the baby Jesus, and that in those days, (as no doubt is true today) shepherds were not the cream of society. They camped out every night, they didn't smell very good, and their best friends were sheep dogs. (Enter Ziggy.) Jan said this is an important part of the Christmas story to emphasize, maybe the most important part. God came not to the well-dressed and proper. He came to the shepherds, and their dogs. They met him before kings and wise men did. It would be nice if those nativity scenes would add a shepherd dog like Ziggy to the cow, sheep, and donkey figures. When you think about it, dogs do a better job of connecting us to the divine. They love us unconditionally, and have since they first crept into our fire circle, since they began keeping the wolves away on cold winter nights, since they made friends with us.