WHAT WAS THAT SNAP?
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Picoa Bay is huddled on a North Shore inlet on Lake Ontario. The trees on the hills hide homes and cottages nestled between them like nests of refuge for road weary families. Lake Ontario, like Lake Superior is stunning in its beauty. Its many currents and evening tides contain powers the magnitude of which few understand - as Sarah found out a few years ago while one day she was skating and winter thunder struck, ripping the ice open just before she fell in the freezing water. But two years later now, she is still alive to remember that as the Christmas that she was rescued.
The trees on the northern slopes of Lake Ontario also hide their own powers - the power of wildlife - animals, big strong, some of them ferocious. This past summer, the neighborhood around Pecoa bay experienced problems with some of them, especially bears, lots of bears who liked to meander through the yard, make a mess out of the garden and turn Moms into a frenzy of concern. The berries in the woods hardly developed because there was too much heat and not enough rain - so the bears in hunger for food came to the shores of Picoa Bay where people lived - for their garbage. Any garbage would be eaten. Sarah saw evidences of how powerful the bears were. The apple tree was almost broken in two from the famished bears. One morning the garbage cans which were made out of tuff plastic had teeth holes right through them. The garbage bags were torn apart by razor sharp claws, the garbage thrown all over. One night, Sarah saw one of the bears munching on some bird see right outside their kitchen window. It looked just like a giant Teddy bear. But when she saw how the bear took the pole on which the bird feeder was mounted, a pole which she had fun climbing, and pulled it right down to the ground, she knew without a doubt how powerful that animal was. It was after seeing that bear that she started sleeping on the floor, if she could get away with it, in her Mom and Dad's bedroom. It seemed just a little safer to be close to them.
It was because of the bears that the Johnson family bought themselves a dog, a German Shepherd, strong, sleek, a bundle of fir and a bundle of fun. She loved to play catch, go for walks, chase the family car when the Johnsons went to church, as if she wanted to go to church with them. They called her Teddy because even though she did not look like a bear, she sure did like to be close to Sarah, and Tim and Ronald. Every time they went to play with their friends in the neighborhood, Teddy was there, trying to join in the fun, and always keeping her watchful eye on things, and watching out for bears. At times in the middle of the night, Teddy would start barking - a sharp low threatening bark - repeatedly she would go "Woof - WoofWoof - Woof "- standing one place near the edge of the yard facing the woods, legs straight, on guard! Sometimes for an hour non-stop she would bark "Woof - WoofWoof - Woof." Sarah wondered what that was all about, she figured it must have to do with bears because she did notice one thing. With Teddy around there seemed to be less bear problems.
It certainly had been an exciting summer, bears, Teddy, watching Ronald, their baby brother grow up. Now on this Christmas Eve, once again, the Johnson family was going to have a good time together, opening presents, eating, listening to Christmas music. It would be a lot of fun. But as usual, Tim and Sarah and now even two year old Ronald could not keep their minds off of the colorful packages under the Christmas tree. So Mom said "Please go to a friends house for a few hours so that I can cook in peace. And be home by 6!" She was trying to get ready for Christmas Eve dinner when their Aunt and Uncle and cousins were going to come over. So Ronald and Sarah both agreed to go to friends in the neighborhood while Ronald slept and Mom worked. The afternoon was cold and windy but in the light of the afternoon sun, Sarah's walk down the winding side road to Kara's house was a lot of fun. The distractions of friendship wisped away the afternoon hours. Before she realized it, the clock chimed 6PM. It was definitely time for her to go home. But once again, play distracted her only to be interupted a few minutes later by a ring of the door bell. It was Tim. He had come to get her and walk her back home.
"Come-on Sarah! Mom told you to be home by 6 o'clock. Now I had to walk all the way over hear just because of you!" Tim complained.
"OK OK" Sarah retorted. Sorry was a word that seemed to have disappeared from her vocabulary in the last few months. With grumbling she got her boots and mitts, hat and coat on. She wished Kara and her family a Merry Christmas and went outside to where Tim with a frown stood waiting.
Tim was obviously in a hurry. With their cousins over, they would certainly exchange some small presents tonight, and he did not want to be a minute late for the fun. And besides, he had been at home on time from his friends place, he had smelled the delicious mouth watering food. He wanted to get home for supper. No time to waste, he walked swiftly ahead of Sarah along the now very dark winding side road back to their own home.
They knew the road well. The moon and the stars reflecting off of the snow gave them just enough light to see where they were going. But in the dense trees beside the road they could see nothing but darkness and the occasional shadow the moon light cast on the edges of the deep green fir needles, shadows that seemed to move with every step they took, almost alive shadows that had the power to hide secrets in a thousand different shades of black.
"Slow down Tim!" Sarah was falling behind and she had to admit, being close to an older brother like Tim at a time like this was comforting, even though he was angry at her. She was thankful for the piles of snow the grader had left behind on the side of the road. It made the road feel a little safer.
"Hurry up - Supper is almost ready!" Tim responded.
Sarah could tell by Tim's voice that he was on edge, as if he didn't like walking in this darkness either! Maybe it brought back memories of when they lived in Tuktyuktuk, and Tim had a snowmobile accident, and in the pitch darkness of Northern Canada he heard wolves howling in the distance. You never know what darkness might hide...
"Snap."... Sarah heard it coming from the dark bushes beside her, a branch shock and snow gently fell to the ground from its needles. Tim a few feet ahead paused a second, he recognized immediately that it was a twig breaking under the weight of a heavy paw. Something was in the bush! "Snap"... another twig broke somewhere in the dark bush. Now Sarah was sure, there had to be a bear in the bush stalking them...
"Tim did you hear that...?"
"Ya, just keep on walking!" Tim's voice more edgy then before.
Sarah noticed that Tim increased his pace. Every few steps Sarah had to run a bit just to keep up with him.
"SNAP!" This time the sound came from just inside the bushes, a few feet away from them, just on the other side of the graded pile of snow. It was silently keeping pace with them except for the occasional cracked twig. Sarah could not see what it was. Dangerous bears with their black fur disappear in darkness.
"Just keep on walking!"
With heart pounding, Sarah increased her hurried pace. And as she did her mind raced...
Sarah remember the garbage cans with big teeth marks in them and they were tougher than she was. She remembered the apple trees broken in half and their limbs were far stronger than her legs. And the bird feeder pole that she had climbed a bear just casually pulled it to the ground.
What if the bear is hungry? Maybe it was a papa bear who needed to feed a momma and a baby bear? Sarah didn't know but she knew one thing! She never walked that fast in her life. She was panting as they came close to the driveway of their home. She could finally see the yard light in the distance.
As they were walking up the driveway and they entered the yard, she heard another "SNAP" in the bush. She was sure the bear was going to take his chances now to get her or Tim. They started running for the back door, and as they did - suddenly out of the bush jumped - - Teddy! - Not a bear! Teddy, their German Shepherd, that cuddly bundle of fur that Sarah had forgotten about jumped out. Teddy was the animal in the bush walking in the dark! The whole time she had been at her friends place, Teddy had watch out for her. On the trip home, Teddy was watching out for her, and now Sarah saw that there was no bear at all, just her lovable dog, Teddy. Suddenly all of Sarah's fears washed away. She had never been so glad to see her dog before. When Teddy ran to the back door with her, she stopped and hugged her dog like never before. Teddy had been doing what she always did, watching over Sarah, taking care of her, making sure she was safe. Later that evening, when Tim told Dad how he had shivers up and down his spine when he heard the snap in the bush, Dad reminded them that they had nothing to worry about . Bears sleep right through the winter. There were no bears lurking in the dark at this time of year.
That evening, Dad read the Christmas story from the gospel of Matthew for table devotions. He read about the birth of Jesus, and then the story of the 3 kings or Magi from the east that came to worship him. As he read, one verse especially struck Sarah. Dad read "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the Shepherd of my people Israel.'" She had never heard that in the Christmas story before. The bible called Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem, a Shepherd.
Again Sarah realized that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to be with us, God with us, watching over us every day, even when we are afraid, even when we don't know what is lurking in the bushes. They talked about that over the diner table together. They discussed how Jesus, the good Shepherd, laid down his life for his sheep to protect them from evil and the destruction of sin. He gave his life to save his sheep from the destruction of sin.
Teddy, the German shepherd was a dog. She could watch out for Sarah and the others but she could never pay for sin. Only Jesus, the good Shepherd could do that, only Jesus could watch over Sarah and Tim and Ronald and Mom and Dad in such a way that not a hair could fall from their head without him knowing about it. Only Jesus, the good Shepherd could be everywhere, watching over everyone of the children he loves all the time.
That night, when Sarah went to bed, she said to God "Thank you for Teddy, and especially thank you for Jesus. I need a Good Shepherd." And that night before Christmas Sarah slept very well in her own bed.
Passages on which this story is based: (NIV)
Matthew 2:6 "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
Isaiah 40:11 "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."
John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--"
Hebrews 13:20 "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.