Alternate reading: Luke 1:26-38
GOSPEL READING: Matthew 18:12-14
12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
SCRIPTURE READING: Isaiah 40:1-11
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. 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, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Meditation: Do you know what it’s like to lose your bearings and to be hopelessly adrift in a sea of uncertainty? To be alone, lost, and disoriented without a sense of direction is one of the worst fears we can encounter. What we would give to have a guide who would show us the way to safety and security, the way to home and family. Scripture comforts us with the assurance that God will not rest until we find our way home to him. The Scriptures use the image of a shepherd who cares for his sheep to describe what God is like. God promised that he would personally shepherd his people and lead them to safety (Isaiah 40:11). That is why God sent his only begotten son as the Messiah King who would not only restore peace and righteousness to the land, but who would also shepherd and care for his people with love and compassion. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11).
The Good Shepherd feeds, protects, and provides the best care possible for his flock
What can we learn from the lesson of Jesus’ parable about a lost sheep? This parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. Shepherds not only had to watch over their sheep by day and by night; they also had to protect them from wolves and lions who preyed upon them, and from dangerous terrain and storms. Shepherds often had large flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands. It was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. You can imagine the surprise and grief of the shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing! Does he wait until the next day to go looking for it? Or does he ask a neighboring shepherd if he might have seen the stray sheep? No, he goes immediately in search of this lost sheep. Delay for even one night could mean disaster leading to death. Sheep by nature are very social creatures. An isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic. Easy prey for wolves and lions!
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take – do we follow him?
The shepherd’s grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The shepherd searches until what he has lost is found. His persistence pays off. What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out time and time again. How easy to forget and be distracted with other matters while the lost become prey for devouring wolves of the soul. The Apostle Peter reminds us that the “devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. God is on a rescue mission today to save us from the destructive forces of sin and evil. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take. Do you listen to his voice and heed his wise counsel? Do you follow the path he has set for you – a path that leads to life rather than death?
Lord Jesus, nothing escapes your watchful gaze and care. May I always walk in the light of your truth and never stray from your loving presence.
Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13
1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established, it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy
13 before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.