01 Advent 3 Midweek Ezekiel 34.11-16
This evening we gather around the light of the Shepherds’ Candle. The light from this candle tells us to rejoice. And we rejoice because the news that is reported here is news that we will never be alone.
We often think of shepherds with a sense of nostalgia. Probably the result of many a children’s Christmas pageants. The last couple of days our Pre-School has been doing their Christmas program, and if you have never seen it, it is well worth the effort to check it out. Our first Christmas here, David was one of the sheep in the Pre-School program. He was so cute, and his mother and I were proud of our little lamb. When he saw us though, he became embarrassed and spent the rest of the program with his little sheep costume pulled up over his head. We rejoice in memories like these, but the rejoicing that our Shepherd’s Candle calls us to, is a deeper kind of rejoicing.
You see, in the Scriptures sheep and shepherding is serious business. It is not just a nice image and analogy, but it was a way of life. Sheep and Shepherd were as common a relationship in those days as teacher and student, or laptop and internet, or cell phone and text message in our world. The relationship between sheep and shepherd is one that gives to us a nice thumbnail of the relationship that we have with our God.
Because of the way that sheep are, they are unable to care for themselves and are not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer as far as animals go, they need a shepherd. The shepherd is the provider, guide, protector and constant companion of the sheep. Without a shepherd, the chance of a sheep’s survival goes way down. This shepherd is one who is dedicated and committed to the wellbeing of the sheep. And is also a leader of the sheep.
So it is really no surprise that the scriptures will often refer to the leaders of the people as shepherds. Whether a prophet, a priest or a king, these roles were often described as the shepherds of God’s people. And yet some these shepherds, being the sinful human beings that they were, did not always have in mind the best interest of the people. In fact it was not uncommon for some of them to walk over the people for their own well being.
Our first lesson this evening comes from the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived during a really rough time in the history of God’s people. The tiny kingdom of Judah often ended up as a pawn between the bigger bully nations of Babylon and Egypt. After some back and forth, and other troubles, Babylon comes in and takes away some of the leaders of Judah. They are picked up and yanked out of their homes and taken against their will to Babylon. Ezekiel finds himself as a member of this unlucky group.
The question that was asked, is why did this happen. And the answer is because the people had not lived according to the promises that they had made to God. And so this is the result. But it is not entirely their fault, you see the shepherds that were leading them were not good leaders. But the message of Ezekiel is that this is not the end. And that even though things are bleak and seem hopeless God will not allow things to remain the way that they are. Imagine being in a situation that feels totally and completely helpless and hopeless. Imagine knowing what needs to be done, and being unable to do anything about it. Imagine feeling stuck, and frustrated because you see the wicked prosper while the good guys are hurting. Now hear these words.
“I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes- feed them justice!”
In the midst of great darkness and trouble there is the promise that God himself will shepherd his sheep. That he will care for them, that he will be their provider, guide, protector and constant companion. Not as a cruel task master who does not let anyone have fun and is only concerned about telling you what to do and not to do, but as a Shepherd who loves and cares for the sheep.
This is something to truly rejoice in. And it is this message that the Shepherds’ candle illuminates in our lives, because the news that it reports is that God himself has come to shepherd his people. In a mysterious miracle our God has become a human being, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. And came to bring us, who are lost apart from him, back to himself. It is no wonder there is rejoicing going on here.
Have you ever or do you feel lost? Unsure? Uncertain? Have you ever felt like you were being pulled in a hundred different directions at once? Or that you were all alone? Well fear not for I bring you news of great joy. Jesus, God in the flesh, comes to keep the promise made in Ezekiel. He is the good shepherd he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Those who are lost and who have strayed away from the fold, he goes to find so that they can be reunited and restored to the flock. (IT’S FLOCKING AWESOME).
And in a twist, this good shepherd became as a lamb himself and he bore on the cross the punishment that was deserved by our sins. He sacrificed himself, he laid down his life, so that we his sheep might have life and have it in all its fullness. His resurrection then showed that his sacrifice was accepted and the price has been paid. So we rejoice.
Now we get to live with this good shepherd as our constant companion who loves and cares for us. And living with him, means that we share in the work that is his mission. Living with him means that we do not seek to make ourselves fat and comfortable, but to search for the lost ones who have strayed away, to bandage the injured, and to strengthen the weak. In doing this, then they will be able to rejoice with us too.
In a mere five days we will have our Christmas Eve marathon of worship. This is a time where it is easy to come in sit down, worship and leave. But on that day there will be a lot of people here who are lost and strayed, people who have been injured or are just feeling weak. Warmly greet them. Make sure to say hello to them and to wish them a Merry Christmas. If you there is someone whom you have not seen in a long time, don’t ask them, “Where have you been?” Tell, them it is nice to see you. How are you doing? In so doing we can make this a place, a place where people know that they are loved and cared for by the Good Shepherd. And in that we rejoice.