This week we begin a new series entitled, “a light shines.” We see over the next four weeks the readings lifting up the Son of God as he begins his life and his mission. Jesus is the light that shines in the world a light that darkness cannot overcome. We will look at Jesus presence in the world and the light that he brings with him.
It is the continuation of the Christmas season, with a feast known as the Epiphany. Magi from the East following a star to find the baby Jesus with his mother Mary. Their presence acknowledges the Kingship of Jesus, as they come to pay homage and bring gifts worthy of a King.
It is noteworthy that it is a star that leads them because Jesus is the Light of the World. Our readings begin this week with the message from Isaiah proclaiming, “Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1) The light of Jerusalem is the Lord come to be present in the temple. It is a prophet that speaks of Jerusalem attracting many, followers and visitors, all seeking the beauty that Jerusalem represents. We will see that Jesus is that light that attracts, a light that has all seeking and curious.
This week the readings center on light, it is a light that draws the magi to the new king, it is light that restores radiance to Jerusalem and attracts pilgrims and visitors, it is the light that Paul speaks about to communities as one selected to announce the gospel message of light. Light is needed to see and it brings life. But, the light comes as a person, one who will share a message of love, a light who is the shepherd of Israel, shepherd of all people, a shepherd who cares for his sheep, who thinks all people are his sheep and he will do everything to keep his sheep. This week we focus on the coming of light who is the shepherd of Israel.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Epiphany of the Lord; Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 and Matthew 2:1-12. This week we see that our light has come. The message of the readings focus on the light coming into the world and being revealed openly by Kings trekking the long distance to Bethlehem to see the one who is the light. We will see that this light is the Shepherd of Israel, and like all shepherds wants to care for the sheep.
The first reading is from Isaiah addresses a new radiant Jerusalem. Jerusalem is completely restored after is destruction, the city is radiant from the glory of the Lord who has made the city’s temple his dwelling-place. The city attracts people from all nations, those required to visit and others who are in awe at its splendor. The image of the New Jerusalem raised the spirit of those engaged in the final rebuilding and those who live in the city. The reading opens speaking of Jerusalem’s light coming, the glory of the Lord shining. Included in this section of the reading is a verse indicating the light of the Lord is enough that the sun will no longer be needed; “No longer shall the sun be your light by day, nor shall the brightness of the moon give you light by night; rather, the LORD will be your light forever, your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19) It is a prophecy about a time in history when the temple attracted many, but it was also a time of promise when there will be a light that comes shining through the entire world. We meet that light in the baby Jesus and discover more of him as he grows and speaks to us, claiming for himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
In the second reading from the letter to the Ephesians Paul is speaking of the grace and revelation he received from God. The original message of Jesus light entering the world is a message for the chosen people, those who would be looking for a Messiah. Paul calls himself the apostle to the gentiles. The light has come for more than the Israelites, the light is available for everyone who wishes to walk in the light. Paul is telling the community in Ephesus that he has been especially chosen by God to be the messenger of this message. Paul will make a focused effort of this announcing, telling people about Jesus and the light. Paul uses the image of light: “God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus is the true light. Paul is a partner in the promise Jesus has made in the gospels. Paul works unceasingly to announce the light to all.Jesus is the true light. Paul is a partner in the promise Jesus has made in the gospels. Paul works unceasingly to announce the light to all. Click To Tweet
In the gospel of Matthew we read the story of the Magi coming to pay homage to the new king. They are asked by Herod to let him know where this new king can be found. These men followed the star, the light provided to lead them to the Light. The light (star) led them to the place where Jesus is laying. They enter and saw the child with Mary his mother. They paid him homage, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The new king is met and announced thanks to the light that shines and precedes him. It is the beginning of the story of the light, the light that has come and in time all the world will come to know Jesus.The new king is met and announced thanks to the light that shines and precedes him. It is the beginning of the story of the light, the light that has come and in time all the world will come to know Jesus. Click To Tweet
In the search for Jesus Herod calls in the chief priests and scribes inquiring where the Christ, the Anointed is to be born. Herod is threatened by the new king and wants to destroy him before he can gain any power. Herod is told the Christ will come from Bethlehem, the land of Judah, which will not be least among the rulers of Judah, ”since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Hearing this Herod began a plot in his mind to have the new ruler destroyed. The prophecy communicated by the religious leaders is from Micah. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and there are similarities between their prophecies. Micah brings hope to the people in this prophecy concerning their restoration, with the coming of a Messiah the glory of Israel will be restored. It is telling from the start that this ruler is seen as a shepherd. Shepherds were considered of lowly status, to have the Messiah come as a shepherd is unusual for one who is expected to restore the people to glory and freedom, giving them a kingdom and status as a rich nation.
The readings support the coming of a light, a light shining that draws attention, and is attracting people and yet this light is the shepherd of the people.
Shepherd of Israel
As we begin to look at the light that shines we can recognize that the plan was for the Messiah to come with humble beginnings. The prophecy in Micah speaks of the ruler coming from Bethlehem, the city of King David. The future king (ruler) will have humble origins, he will be born in a small town, although Bethlehem is not without honor as it is the city of King David. The new ruler comes from an ancient line, which we see in the line of King David. We must wait until as the prophet says, “when she who is to give birth has borne,” (Micah 5:2) the ruler will be born of woman. He shall tend his flock taking his place as a shepherd and they shall reach to the end of the earth. In other words all people will be his people and he will be their shepherd. We must recognize from the start the plan for the Messiah was humble and grand at the same time.We must recognize from the start the plan for the Messiah was humble and grand at the same time. Click To Tweet
Shepherds are key to the flock. Sheep are timid animals, they are afraid and jumpy at the smallest things, some have seen a poodle scatter a flock with a few simple barks (or are they squeaks). A flock held in a field by fence will see the flock is comfortable and scattered pasturing everywhere. However remove the fence from the same field and they are seen huddled together for protection out of fear. It is the shepherd who has the most calming effect on the sheep. A flock who has the shepherd in sight will feel and act safe. They intuit that with the shepherd present they will be protected. Remove the shepherd from their line of sight and their fear levels rise and they act with great fright. The behavior of the sheep and the need of a shepherd provides a good witness to why the Messiah would come as shepherd of Israel.
Other leaders and various nations through time have used the shepherd imagery. It is one of the oldest or earliest occupations. Flocks and herds were always prominent throughout Palestine and other Near Eastern societies. Possession of these animals indicated power and wealth. We see it throughout scripture, Job had thousands of animals. Abraham was seen as rich because of the size of his flock. We even hear of David as a young boy being the shepherd out in the field with the family flock.
The principal duty of the shepherd was to see the animals found food and water and it was important they guard the sheep as they were easy prey for other wild animals. There is also the danger that thieves might sneak among the sheep and carry them off (see John 10:1) The good shepherd was especially concerned for the condition of the flock, careful the animals not be overdriven; he would sometimes carry helpless lambs in his arms, or on his shoulder. At night the sheep were often kept in an enclosure, tangled bushes, or a cave, something that would afford the sheep protection of some sort. The main work of the shepherd was to keep the flock intact, counting each animal as he passed under his hand
From this routine of daily life an extensive and complex stock of shepherd and flock imagery developed throughout the Ancient Near East. It is one of humanities earliest symbols, and is used repeatedly in scripture to picture God, or national leaders ruling over their people,
We see from the beginning the early church saw Jesus as the great shepherd and the fulfillment of the good shepherd. Even in modern times the image continues in the pastoral nature of leaders. A Pastor is seen as the shepherd of his flock and the congregation seen as the sheep in need of a shepherd.
The image of Jesus and shepherd begins when shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem receive the announcement from angels, including an announcement of peace, that a son has been born. We see this prophecy from Micah announcing the shepherd as ruler born in Bethlehem. We also see Jesus as the Messiah who comes to “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). The most developed shepherd and flock imagery comes from the gospel of John (10:1-18, 22-29), where Jesus’ concern for Israel is contrasted with the feigned care of their present leadership. As a compassionate and trusting shepherd, his mission and quality of leadership are marked by a willingness to die for the sheep.Jesus, as a compassionate and trusting shepherd, his mission and quality of leadership are marked by a willingness to die for the sheep. Click To Tweet
At the end of time, nations are to be gathered around the Son of Man like a great flock of sheep and goats. (Matthew 25:31-33) The early church patterns the role as leaders around the image of Jesus and the Good Shepherd, they too were to be shepherds of the flock. In fact Jesus makes the specific request to Peter in one of their last meetings, asking if Simon Peter loved him three times and three times telling him, feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
The image of the Good Shepherd is one Jesus claimed for himself, saying, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15) It is a beautiful thing to be known and in biblical language to be known is much more intimate than just being an acquaintance. To be known is more like a word used for intercourse, knowing someone so intimately and completely, which is how Jesus knows us, even knowing our name and every hair on our head. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep and will do whatever it takes to bring the sheep back to the flock.
The Messiah born as a baby grows to become a shepherd, a ruler, a King according to prophecy and how we see Jesus living his life. We could not ask for a better Messiah nor a better image of restoration and salvation then the new King who will give his life for his sheep.
A light shines
This shepherd who comes as a child, a star guiding the way for Kings to honor the King, a ruler who loves his sheep and is willing to give his life for his sheep, is the light that shines. It is a great light that shines from a point in history over two thousand years ago and points to a future without end, it is a light that point to love, joy, peace and happiness. Jesus is the light that shines who will replace the sun, a light so bright that all will be known and all can be seen. It is the light that illumines the world, each life and every corner of the universe. We have born to us a shepherd who is the Light of the World.Jesus is the light that shines who will replace the sun, a light so bright that all will be known and all can be seen. Click To Tweet