f o l d

Today Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and first did so to a people familiar with sheep and shepherds. And assuming none of us are, I’d like to begin by acknowledging that however comfortable you and I are with this parable of following a good shepherd, it isn’t a sweet parable. 

It isn’t about abiding in vague sweet-grassy meadows. 

It’s a message of hope, yes, but not a sentimental hope.

For starters, we’re the sheep in this parable, numbered among those the wolves run off with or among those the hired hands abandon. Any child reading this would know it for a scary story. 

Like all parables, the hope it offers means to challenge the way you live, and means also to nourish you, and thereby nourish your relationship with God and with other people. In fact, I would say this parable is, fundamentally, about relationships, about turning the herd of all people toward God.

I think here of a roadside mystery some of you may have seen: a whole herd of cows standing in a field all facing the same direction, their faces to the wind, looking an awful lot like a cow regatta, as if all the cows in all the world momentarily stopped cowing around and became aware of something beyond them. 

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and the angel left

We are those people the angel spoke of:  the people who long for good news, who need good news to come to all people. If we’ve learned anything this last year, it’s how helplessly related we are to all people — how other lives have consequence in our own. Always have, always will.

If only the angels would come again to light our way. If only some heavenly illumination would renew our way of looking at each other — at all people — every hour of every day. But the angels never stay, do they? They always vanish into heaven and leave us in the dark. 

It’s what happened to Mary: the angel came and left her. And it’s what happened to the shepherds, too: the angel left them as well. They must have been amazed, though, by the angel’s sudden appearance: must have shuttered their eyes from the blazing glory of it all, only to open them and find the vision gone. 

What happened next, though, means to take you by surprise. You see, the shepherds didn’t wait on the angel’s return. Instead, they ran off toward Bethlehem on foot in search of that thing the angel spoke of.

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