And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them. (Ezekiel 34,23) Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13,20-21)
Since the earliest days, God’s people thought highly of shepherds and the calling to take good care of their herds be that camels, cattle, sheep or goats. Abel was one of these and although he was brutally murdered by his very own brother, we remember him as one, whom the Lord himself was well pleased with. The patriarchs, Joseph and his brothers, Moses himself and the great king David were shepherds in the literal sense of the word and even the prophet Amos calls himself “herdsman” (Amos 7:14). Yes, these positive connections made it easy for the people of God to even identify their rulers and leaders in the spiritual and civic realms – their kings, prophets and priests – with shepherds. God himself was their good shepherd, who took good care of them always (cf. Psalm 23).
However in the course of time it became clear that people in high office were disappointing. Most – if not all – failed in their high calling. Leaving God’s people rather disgruntled and disillusioned with their government and overall leadership. Yes, God himself is disgusted with the corrupt and self-serving leaders and lets his prophet Ezekiel proclaim his overall disqualification of the shepherds of his people – his very own flock and herd – his one holy Christian Church. They exploit the people instead of feeding and caring for them. The sheep look haggard, wounded and in desperate poor shape whereas the self-appointed and conceited shepherds are overweight, decorated with all sorts of finery and generally well pleased with themselves.
Another aspect was that by the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, shepherds were held to be very much outside the godly fold of righteous people and holy congregation of saints. The reason for this, was that going about their calling of tending the sheep day and night prevented them from adhering to the many laws, prescriptions, rules and regulations set down by the devout, pious and law-abiding citizens of Israel. They couldn’t follow the set times of prayer, offerings and sacrifice. They were busy with dirty work outside and way beyond the boundaries of the holy city of God.
It is remarkable that God himself does not just disqualify the so-called shepherds and bad rulers of his people, but he promises to send a proper & good shepherd instead, who will do what is right in God’s eyes, tending God’s people and caring for them with grace, peace and mercy: a good shepherd, who’ll be good for the sheep, feed and care well for them, leading them to green pastures and quite waters, protecting and comforting them with his rod and staff, deterring wolves and other dangerous beasts. The sheep know his voice, they follow him and he leads them appropriately – right, meet and salutary. In the end he even lays down his life for them. It’s the one, Israel waited for over ages. So much – rather all and everything – depended on him and his coming and his good rule and care of God’s flock. With this promise of the good shepherd for Israel and the people and Church of God, he kept up their hope and confidence even though they were often tempted to despair and give up altogether.
This good Shepherd is Jesus Christ. He, who at his birth was put in a manger. He, who is well know as the proper Lord and God by even the lowliest creatures like ox and donkey – even though his own people disregard and reject him! – is visited firstly by those lowly shepherds, those hirelings, who were tending their employers flocks outside in the field. They visit him, because the angelic host invited them to do so. The heavenly bands announced the life-changing message to them, that the Good Shepherd of God’s own calling, installation and ordination was finally born – right there in Bethlehem. And the shepherds go and see all that the angel told them to find out that it was indeed so. All was just as he had proclaimed. And they too spread the word about little baby Jesus, who was born to save the world. He does the work of the good shepherd from beginning to end. Preaching the Word of God to those desperately in need of both law and gospel. Condemning the wrong ways and showing the right one clearly. Binding up wounds, healing hurts and injuries, feeding, protecting, nurturing and tending all along.
He is the great shepherd, who would do what it takes to redeem God’s people from sin, death and the devil. He would placate God’s wrath and grant everlasting peace and gracious favour through the very forgiveness of all our sins and by himself bearing our iniquities and burdens onto the cross, shedding his precious blood as everlasting covenant and overcoming the pangs of death and the darkness of grave and the terrors of hell.
And there on the cross he pulled all towards himself – the Jews and the gentiles, those near by, but also those far off – paving the way for all to the heavenly Father and eternal salvation for even the most desperate sinners. He prayed for his killers: Father forgive them, for they don’t know, what they are doing! He promised the guilty and convicted felon with heavenly authority: Today you will be with me in paradise!
This good shepherd again calls, installs and ordains shepherds (i.e. pastors) to help serve his people by preaching his Holy Word and administering his sacraments too – to create saving faith where and when it pleases God. Pastors, who are not self-serving, but tend God’s people – just like our Lord Jesus Christ admonished his apostle St.Peter: If you love me, tend my sheep/take care of my lambs. According to his holy will, grace and pastoral care, you pastors are to be made “perfect in every good work to do his will, for he works in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen.
Prayer for our pastors: “Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give commandment to the apostles that they should go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature: grant to us whom thous hast called into thy church a ready will to obey thy Word, and fill us with a hearty desire to make thy way known upon earth, thy saving health amongst all nations. Look with compassion upon the multitudes that are scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. O heavenly Father, Lord of the harvest, have respect, we beseech thee, to our prayers, and send forth labourers into thy harvest. Fit and prepare them by thy grace for the work of the ministry/service; give them the Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind; strengthen them to endure hardness and grant that thy Holy Spirit may prosper their work, and that by their life and doctrine they may show forth thy glory, and set forward the salvation of all men; through Jesus Christ, our Lord – the good Shepherd – Amen.” (Dobberstein 15)
“All My Heart This Night Rejoices” by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676
1. All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear Far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
Till the air Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.
2. Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe, Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o’erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son Now is one
With our blood forever.
3. Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
Who, to save, Freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, He hath given
His own Son From the throne
Of His might in heaven.
4. Should He who Himself imparted
Aught withhold From the fold,
Leave us broken-hearted?
Should the Son of God not love us,
Who, to cheer Sufferers here,
Left His throne above us?
5. If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the care
Of our race benighted?
6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race, By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.
7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, Doth entreat:
“Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are feed; All you need
I will surely give you.”
8. Come, then, banish all your sadness,
One and all, Great and small;
Come with songs of gladness.
Love Him who with love is glowing;
Hail the Star, Near and far
Light and joy bestowing.
9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure,
Weep no more; See the door
To celestial pleasure.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross, Pain, or loss
Can again betide you.
10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted,
Who for sin, Deep within,
Long and sore have smarted;
For the poisoned wound you’re feeling
Help is near, One is here
Mighty for their healing.
11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched;
Know His will Is to fill
Every hand outstretched.
Here are riches without measure;
Here forget All regret,
Fill your hearts with treasure.
12. Let me in my arms receive Thee;
On Thy breast Let me rest,
Savior, ne’er to leave Thee.
Since Thou hast Thyself presented
Now to me, I shall be
13. Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of God, Thou my load
Bearest to release me.
Stain in me Thou findest never;
I am clean, All my sin
Is removed forever.
14. I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store Evermore
Righteous robes receiving
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Treasure rare, Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee.
15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish.
Though my breath Fail in death,
Yet I shall not perish,
But with Thee abide forever
There on high, In that joy
Which can vanish never.
The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn # 77 Text: Luke 2:11
Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653 Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, alt.
Titled: “Froehlich soll mein Herze springen” Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653
Tune: “Froehlich soll mein Herze”