Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Sermon on Isaiah 40:10-11, for Christmas Eve, "Like a Shepherd"
1. This night shepherds came to greet One who would be a shepherd like them. As their dark night flashed into brilliance and joyful sound with the arrival of the angels and their announcement, these shepherds jumped up to run and see a miracle. God’s Son, born into the world, bringing peace and goodwill to men. They would come and find a shepherd par excellence. One who would excel in their profession. Jesus probably never tended the four-legged variety of sheep, but this child was born to shepherd His people Israel, and also others not of that flock (the Gentiles He would later call).
2. Shepherd needs to be strong and brave to ward off danger and protect the sheep. Strength of His arm against foes, but safety for the lambs gathered in His arms. Like young David fighting off wild bears and lions to protect his flock. Not a weak or timid God. Jesus showed His strength and bravery in a remarkable way, by laying down His life for the sheep. Unafraid to die, knowing it was the only way to secure a future for His sheep and Himself. “YHWH combines toughness and gentleness. There is a special authenticity about the gentleness of a tough person, and about the toughness of a gentle person” (Goldingay). Can you picture such a person you knew like that? Perhaps a father figure, or grandfather? Who was tough, but gentle? A mother or grandmother? Who was gentle but tough? The authenticity of that person’s actions, balancing both toughness and tenderness speaks volumes of their love. So also God is tough on sin, but gentle to His lambs. Makes war on the thorns and briars that trap us, but gently holds the sheep in His arms.
3. Shepherd’s need to be watchful and responsible. Always tending to their sheep, because they often go astray. Can’t neglect or ignore the sheep, they will fall into danger. Jesus watches over His sheep. Brings us back on His shoulders, rejoicing, when we go astray.
4. Shepherd needs to be gentle. Sheep will hear His voice and love Him if He is tender. Jesus shows incredible love to His lambs, “He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Infants and mothers with children are the most vulnerable. Knows our situation, is gentle with us. In His bosom we are sheltered and secured. Jesus draws us, His little lambs, close to His heart.
5. He gathers those who have been scattered (i.e. exile). Jesus gathers the flock into one fold. Jews and Gentiles, all are still called to come into His pasture, to know Him as shepherd, trust Him, hear His voice.
6. Wolves exploit the vulnerable, multiply their sufferings. The church and Christ its shepherd protect and love the vulnerable.
7. Shepherd needs to know where it is safe to drink and good pasture. Jesus leads us to the still waters of baptism for the forgiveness of our sins, the refreshing of our soul, the quenching of our thirst for life—eternal life. He leads us in green pastures, feeding us with His Word, guarding us in the safety of the church from the pains of an unforgiven conscience, from the guilt of unresolved sin, from the hatred of the world, from the unhealthy diet of lies and empty promises that cannot feed us, from the idols we build that have no strength, no power to save.
8. Almost impossible to comprehend, if you were Mary and Joseph, or one of the shepherds, to look at those tiny baby arms of Jesus, and to imagine that they would one day be pierced for our sins. To imagine that those arms would grow to be the strong and everlasting arms of our God—strong to bind up the broken, the gather in the sheep and carry them in safety, through all the whirlwind storms and troubles of life.
9. Yet these were God’s arms. On that night they would look so tiny, so innocent, soft and frail. Unimaginable that those shoulders would bear the weight of the world’s sin. But they would. And those arms would grow in adulthood to great strength. To toughness and tenderness. To gentleness and love. In His arms we will be safe and He’ll preserve us to everlasting life. Arms stretched out in love for the world, sheltering all His own who hear His voice and follow, and calling the rest to take refuge in Him. Tonight in the manger you find a shepherd. The Good Shepherd. Your Shepherd. Trust in His arms and be gathered near to His heart in love.