The Good Shepherd
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Isaiah 40: 11
In Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ. But who is Christ to us?
I was thinking about this as I listened to Handel’s Messiah this year. This wonderful piece of music traces all the messianic anticipations of the Old Testament, their longing for a heavenly king, a ruler, a judge, a mighty counsellor. But hidden in there is another title: the good shepherd. This one struck my heart. The coming Christ is to be a king, a ruler, a judge, but he is also to be a shepherd, tender, patient, caring.
I sat in a coffee shop one day listening to “He Shall Feed His Flock” and tears sprung into my eyes. There is a tenderness, a safety, an intimacy expressed in the simple words of Isaiah’s prophecy: “He will gather the lambs and carry them in his bosom” and I am one of his lambs. Yes, Christ will come to rule and reign, but he also came to tend, to gather, to carry, to gently lead. My heart needed to hear this.
Christmas is a joyful time, but also a tender time.
Many people carry sadness, disappointment, or guilt at this time of year.
And that is why I think it is important to dwell on Christ as the shepherd, gently caring for us. This idea was brought home to me in a special way when I found a series of paintings of Scottish Highland shepherds by Richard Ansdell. I’ve lived in Scotland for the last two and a half years, so something in these pictures was familiar. They gave me a new way to image Jesus’ tenderness, and a new way to receive his love.
So this week in the podcast, we will be anticipating, dwelling on, and appreciating one of the messianic promises of advent: that the good shepherd will come and lead us with compasssion.
God’s heart toward you is tender, loving, he longs to carry you. This is the truth we will explore in this week’s advent podcast and meditation.
Let us meditate on that beautiful truth this week of advent!
For best results, listen to the podcast through the purple box below (or on iTunes) and follow along in the show notes.
oh, and one more thing!
I recorded this episode with one of the deepest, most loving people I know: Gwennie.
Gwennie is one of my family’s oldest and dearest friends. She and my mother were missionaries together in Poland in the 70’s. I grew up with many frequent visits to Eben house, Gwennie’s beautiful Kentucky cottage. Gwennie is closer than family, and for years she visited us before Christmas. And this year I had the great pleasure of visiting Gwennie! We’d planned on this visit for over two years. I’m typing this in the airport, and I just have to say: this visit was a gift!
Gwennie very graciously agreed to record this podcast with me.
Gwennie has a deep knowledge of scripture, a rich, contagious laugh, and many stories about me as a little girl. All this to say… I think you’ll really enjoy this episode. :-)
“Comfort oh Comfort My people” says your God,
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c]
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
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.
Christ will come as a King, powerful and glorious.
But the king is also the Good Shepherd.
He tenderly cares for us, his vulnerable flock.
He holds us close to his heart.
2. “He Shall Feed His Flock” by George Fredric Handel
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Handel’s Messiah traces the line between the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, and their fulfilment in Jesus. It is one of the greatest pieces of Western Music.
Written in 1741, The Messiah is a remarkable piece of music that traces the line between the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible and their fulfillment in Jesus. It quickly became a classic and is often played around Christmas time as a celebration of and meditation on God’s loving plan of salvation. One of the remarkable things about the libretto is that it often ties together the Old Testament texts with new. In this beautiful song, he ties together the Isaiah 40:11 passage we examined above with Matthew 11:28-30.
So many of the Messianic prophecies are about God’s kingship, his rule, his judgement, but I love that one of the main images we are give of that Kingship is as a shepherd. These two images seem so far apart— the grand, opulent, powerful king, the simple, earthy, faithful shepherd. But the Messiah we receive is both, and the fulfilment of his kingship is to gather us to his bosom. To love us and treat us tenderly.
christmas is for the weary and the heavy laden
It is for those who need to be scooped up in the arms of the good shepherd
his comfort is a part of his kingship
2. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
I like sad movies.
To many this is strange, but to some it is perfectly understandable. One such movie was Manchester by the Sea (2016). I don’t necessarily recommend watching it as it is a heart wrenchingly sad and difficult movie about a man whose life is truly tragic. But there was something in this movie that has stuck in my heart, changed the way I see, and something which I wanted to share with you.
The movie with the death of Joe Chandler, the brother and source of support and love of the main character Lee. Lee is a good, faithful man in many ways, but his life has been unbelievably tragic, and he carries a deep burden of guilt. Joe was the one person who helped lighten this load for him. Joe’s loss is a great one to Lee. When Lee returns to make arrangements for Joe’s funeral, they find that the ground is too hard to dig a grave; he must wait for Spring. The movie, then, takes place while Lee cares for his nephew and waits to bury his brother, following him through grief and hardship.
Finally, near the end of the movie, Lee is able to have a funeral for his brother. The scene is gentle, beautiful, sad but not emotionally manipulative. And singificant for us, “He Shall Feed His Flock” from Handel’s Messiah is playing over the entire scene.
As I watched the scene, I saw, for a moment, God’s deep love of his children.
His heart of compassion and grief over our sorrows.
His deep longing to gather us into his arms.
I thought of the passage that Handel references “Comfort Oh Comfort my people… speak kindly to them and tell them that their warfare is over.
Surely, Lee’s character has been through warfare. And as the golden beauty of Handel’s alto sang over Lee’s moment of closure at his brother’s grave, I glimpsed God’s love for us. In all the paint and difficulty of the world, it is only natural to ask “Why would God allow this?” The truth is, I do not know. But what I do know is that Christ was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, that he enters into our tenderness and vulnerability. That his heart toward us the heart of a gentle shepherd, longing to hold us to his chest and lead us toward healing.
Like Lee, sometimes we have a hard time receiving that love, but it is there. Waiting gently and patiently.
I pray that you experience that love this advent.