Advent invites us to ponder deeply who we are in light of God becoming one of us, flesh and blood in real time and space… the Incarnation. No other faith tradition even attempts to claim this as truth in the way Christianity does. In the first century, the Incarnation set the disciples and others in the Christian communities apart from the Jews, the Samaritans and other Middle Eastern neighbors as well as from the Greeks and the Romans. It still sets Christians apart.
Why did God become a human? To do something that was foretold, in retrospect in Isaiah, that answers every human longing, every human fear: Jesus liberates us from all slavery, especially the enslavement caused by our fear of the great unknown, death.
Today’s Gospel emphasizes the tender outreach of Jesus to everyone who is lost and scared. The lost sheep is another metaphoric way Jesus tells us how God loves us and how we are to love. This Good Shepherd spends time and energy to risk finding the one sheep who has gone it alone. He goes to the margins to find the animal, save the dumb creature from multiple threats in the wilderness, including the threat of death, and places it in the protection of the flock (i.e., the Christian community) and the Shepherd.
To imitate the Good Shepherd, we need look no further than our families, parishes, neighborhoods and cities to find people lost, excluded, threatened and scared. Jesus asks us to notice them, seek them out, listened to them, extend a hand, and pay attention…to value them.
Today’s first reading Isaiah addresses those returning from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem. It adds to our understanding of tending to lost sheep: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” And “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.”
In our abiding in Jesus, in John’s 15th Chapter, we are commanded to do something. Let that doing be to find lost sheep all around us who need comfort, feeding, carrying and to be led. This is the fruit of our union with our Good Shepherd.
Taking time today to listen to our Shepherd and then do what we are instructed to do is glorifying God. There is no greater work in the world today. This work, done in union with the God-man, offers comfort to us in our own fears, worries and doubts.
Take a few quiet moments to ponder abiding in Jesus the Good Shepherd and letting him abide in you.
Good will result.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.