Good Tidings

Can you remember a time in your life when you had really, really, REALLY good news to share? I can remember racing home to my college dorm the night I got engaged. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents…they were the first call I made. Then ran up and down the halls and told my dorm-mates. Finally I settled down in my room and called my friends from high school, my grandparents, my sister, and my cousins. I spent a few hours sharing my good tidings. I couldn’t help myself!

Today we finish the passage in Isaiah that we began yesterday. In this section, we read of the good tidings of God’s return to redeem Jerusalem:

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Here we see a sign of what the Messiah will look like. Good news! He comes with might to save his people, and tends to them like a caring shepherd:

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

We tell this story over and over. Every Advent brings us back to these same good tidings. Why do we keep repeating the same story?

Paul R. Abernathy, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., puts it like this:

“We do not recount the record of our redemption simply to recall ancient biblical texts. No. We retell the story so that it takes deeper root in us. We retell the story so that we become the story, the church seasons becoming active verbs in our lives.

We retell the story so that we always ‘advent,’ being alert to the coming of Jesus to us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘christmas,’ being animated by the birth of Jesus in us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘epiphany,’ being awake to the revelation of Jesus in us for the world.
We retell the story so that we always ‘lent,’ being aligned to the death of Jesus for us in our dying to sin.
We retell the story so that we always ‘easter,’ being alive to the resurrection of Jesus for us and in us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘pentecost,’ being afire with the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Advent, then, is more than a mere revival of a repetitious cycle. Advent signals the renewal of a spiritual journey that wends its way to the very gate of glory of heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.”
(“When Will It End?” The African American Pulpit 1 [Fall 1998], 6.)

May you ‘advent’ and be alert to God-With-Us in new ways this year. Go and shout the good tidings of Christ’s birth from your own mountaintop! And may the story take deep root in you until you BECOME the story.

Go, and tell.

A High Mountain in Germany by Jessica Spiegelblatt

Sheeples

The phrase “sheeples” has become the dirty word of 2020. Used when people have opposing views, it is a derogatory way of saying one group is vapid enough to believe things that the other group finds offensive, false, or ridiculous. In this mindset, if you are “so stupid” that you hold a particular opinion, you might be called a sheeple by someone who holds the opposite opinion.

The underlying thought behind this put-down is that sheep are supposedly simple-minded. Come on now! Y’all are giving sheep a bad name. Sheep may be dumb, but they would never be mean enough to engage in name-calling. I’m here to stand up for the sheep!

In all seriousness, there is beautiful language in scripture that uses images of sheep-like behavior in a very positive ways. If you look closely, these scriptures usually end up being more about the shepherd than the sheep. When people are compared to a flock that is ready to follow the care and concern of a Shepherd, it is a comforting image and a humbling lesson.

Most Bible readers are familiar with the Good Shepherd imagery that Jesus used in John 11:

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

But today’s lectionary takes us back to Ezekiel, well before Jesus arrived. This was written during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon, when the people were scattered all over the place. Note the connections between the prophet’s writings and Jesus’ own words:

Ezekiel 34 (Common English Bible)

11 The Lord God proclaims: I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have been scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will gather and lead them out from the countries and peoples, and I will bring them to their own fertile land. I will feed them on Israel’s highlands, along the riverbeds, and in all the inhabited places.

Call me a sheeple, but this is exactly where I want to be. I want to be in the care of a gentle leader. I want to be sought out when I stray. I want to be rescued and led into the fertile land.

I want to be fed.

 14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their sheepfold will be there, on Israel’s lofty highlands. On Israel’s highlands, they will lie down in a secure fold and feed on green pastures. 15 I myself will feed my flock and make them lie down. This is what the Lord God says. 

16 I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak. But the fat and the strong I will destroy, because I will tend my sheep with justice.

Your Shepherd is calling you, too. He himself is ready to feed you and provide you with rest.

Is the Lord seeking you? Are you lost? Wounded? Weak?

All you have to do is follow. God tends his sheep with love, mercy, kindness, and justice.

I don’t know about you, but I just wanna be a sheep.

He Leads Me Beside the Still Water by Wende Pritchard