Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Advent
The Shepherd’s Embrace

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalms 96:1-2, 3, 10, 11-12, 13; Matthew 18:12-14

In these days when we find ourselves reminded of and invited to enter into the joy of God’s coming, we may also notice a phenomenon that those living in temperate countries know well. They tell us that it is precisely in this supposedly joy-filled season that many are prone to depression and suicide. Of course, much of it has to do with the climate – it’s cold and the days are very short. We don’t have these problems here in the tropics. But are there not some of us who might also find ourselves growing strangely depressed as Christmas draws near?

We know, at some level, what is expected of us. We know that we need to prepare well and not simply go through the motions of feasting and shopping. And yet, do we not sometimes wonder if there’ll really be any change in our situation when Christmas comes around? While we know that our interior valleys need to be filled in and the mountains laid low to welcome the One who is coming, our experience of previous Christmases may lead us to wonder whether there’ll actually be any breakthroughs made in our struggle with our own favorite sins. Whether, come Christmas day, the lonely will actually find companionship, or the stressed the rest and relief that they need so much? Or will we still find ourselves too weak to make a lasting change, and perhaps too lukewarm to care.

Our readings today help us in our struggle with these temptations to despondency by first agreeing with us that our efforts are probably miserably insufficient. All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower’s. But what follows is crucially important: the grass may wither and the flower may fade, but the word of our God remains for ever.

While the inadequacy of our resolve may cause depression, our readings invite us to take courage and hope from the constancy of God’s love for us. It is this steadfast love that will bring God to us, that will see God coming among us – indeed, He is already in our midst – to take charge of the situation. We may be weak, but God is coming with power. And more than that, this powerful God is also coming with great tenderness and compassion – like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms…

Is this not our one safe refuge when the terrifying beasts of despondency and despair assail us? In the powerful yet tender arms of the shepherd, we find security and salvation. And even when we feel far from his embrace, we are reminded that this King and Shepherd is seeking us out. He is willing even to leave the ninety-nine sheep that did not stray to look for the one that is lost.

And even as we allow ourselves to experience the joys of the Shepherd’s coming, even as we allow ourselves to be fed and embraced, will we not also find ourselves drawn to go up to a high mountain and to shout with a loud voice this good news of the Lord’s coming? Will we not find ourselves impelled to seek out, in our turn, others who might be lost and afraid, others who may be yearning for the Shepherd’s touch?

How is God embracing us today? To whom are we being sent to proclaim His coming?

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