Shepherd’s Gift Reflects True Spirit of Christmas

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In this season of giving, the most meaningful gifts aren’t always wrapped in colored paper. Sometimes they’re covered in wool and offered from the heart.

Staunton farmer Mark Ruschhaupt is one of the few honest-to-goodness shepherds in Macoupin County. “It’s rare to have a flock of sheep,” Ruschhaupt notes.

So, each December for the past eight years, Ruschhaupt and his Dorset sheep gain prominence among several communities and two churches that re-enact the first Christmas with a live nativity. The manger settings and the re-enactments vary. One takes place in a barn.

“One church does a drive-by nativity,” Ruschhaupt says. “One community puts on a full play with speaking parts.”

While Ruschhaupt doesn’t act or portray one of the original shepherds, he ensures his sheep – two or three of the older, more docile ones – are ready for their big scene and well cared for with hay and pans of feed and water. To eliminate any wandering offstage, the sheep join the Holy Family and special guests while stationed in a snug pen.

In the past, his wooly actors have been joined by donkeys, a miniature horse, cows and goats, but no camels. Evidently, those three wise men came bearing gifts on foot.

A special part for Ruschhaupt is the reactions his animals receive.

“Everyone looks forward to the animals coming, and the kids ask their (the sheep) names,” Ruschhaupt says. “People love seeing live animals.”

As for how he and his sheep first joined this annual ritual, Ruschhaupt says it began as many things do: “Someone asked.”

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And now he looks forward each year to these Christmas moments.

“It’s really nice when the sheep are baaing and they’re singing, ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.’ It adds a lot to the scene,” he says.

Ruschhaupt asks nothing in return for providing these reminders of those shepherds from Bethlehem.

“I enjoy doing it. It’s really nice to view these and be part of the community,” he says. “To get the fullness of Christmas and the warmth, you have to be a part of something.”

The original shepherds shared their joy of finding a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager. This modern shepherd shares the spirit of Christmas, a special gift to the community. And that’s what Christmas is all about.

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