Advent Reflection: Waiting for the Shepherd
Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us!
This is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the season in which Christians throughout the world prepare for a fuller, richer celebration of the birth of Jesus. Advent is a season of expectation, waiting, and hope. During the four weeks before Christmas, we put ourselves back into the mindset of the Jews as they yearned for a Messiah two millennia ago. Moreover, we get in touch with our own hope for the second coming of the Messiah. (The word advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming” or “visit.")
During Advent, my Sunday reflections, and perhaps even a couple of Saturday reflections as well, will focus on some of the themes of this season. If you’d like to learn more about Advent, I’ve written about it extensively on my website. Also, I have written an Advent devotional guide.
Psalm 80 begins with a cry to God, who is addressed as the “Shepherd of Israel” because he has led Joseph’s descendants as a literal shepherd would lead a flock of sheep. The psalmist cries out to the divine shepherd because God’s people are in need of deliverance, and only God is strong enough to save them.
Why do the Israelites need to be rescued? Because the protective walls of their cities have been broken down, allowing enemies to enter at will and steal from them (80:12). These enemies have “chopped up and burned” the Israelites as if they were a grapevine to be destroyed (80:14-16). Thus, God’s people have been eating sorrow and drinking their own tears (80:5). They need their Good Shepherd to save them because they are helpless and hopeless.
In the season of Advent, we get in touch with just how much we also need God’s help. Some of us need to experience his saving power for the first time. Others of us, who have received his grace through Christ, are in need of other kinds of salvation. Perhaps we need to be delivered from bondage to alcohol or drugs. Perhaps we need our Shepherd to mend our broken hearts and our shattered families. Or perhaps we sense that only by God’s power will the hungry of the world be fed and the poor be lifted out of their poverty. Thus, like the author of Psalm 80, we yearn for divine deliverance.
Jesus Christ came as our Good Shepherd, the one who saves us, nurtures us, and seeks us when we are lost. In a few weeks we will celebrate his birth among us. For now, we get in touch with just how much we need him. We turn our minds and hearts to the Lord, crying out in the words of Psalm 80: “Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel … Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us!”
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways do you need to experience God’s salvation in your life? Have you cried out to God to deliver you? When you think of God as your Good Shepherd, how does this impact your feelings and actions? Will you let Advent be a time for you to get in touch with just how much you need the Lord?
PRAYER: Indeed, O Lord, you are our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who knows and cares for his sheep. Thank you for paying attention to your people. Thank you for wanting the best for us. Thank you for reaching out to us in your mercy. Thank you for saving us, nurturing us, guiding us, and protecting us.
Thank you for being not just the Good Shepherd, but my Good Shepherd as well. Thank you for all those times you have reached out in mercy to help me. How good you are to me!
Yet, as you know, I still need your help. So I cry out to you today, “Please listen, O my Shepherd. Show me your mighty power. Come to rescue me!”
I pray in the name of the Good Shepherd. Amen.
Advent in Us
“But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Cor. 15:10).
The grace of God through Christ Jesus is not a passive presence in our lives. The grace of God is at work in us, building us up and moving us to action and growth, to good work and worship. Everything we accomplish and all we become is because of the grace of Christ. In this, the first week of Advent, let’s remember Advent in Us, the gift of grace through our Lord Jesus. Let’s consider ways to discover anew the work of grace in our work, our lives, and our relationship with God.