This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Christian year. November 30 is our New Year, the beginning of Advent.
But for now, we’re at an end, the end of “Ordinary Time” (the absolutely worst named season of the liturgical year).
But back to the new year. Yeah, it’s not in January, well it is for the rest of the world, but not for those of us who call ourselves the church. If you want to make a new year’s resolution, why not make it a month early? You’ll be way ahead of the game.
In this Sunday’s reading from Ezekiel, there’s a problem.
The shepherds who are supposed to be taking care of Israel aren’t doing such a great job. Instead of feeding and caring for God’s sheep, they’re gorging themselves on
turkey and stuffing whatever folks gorged themselves on in those days. The shepherds are living the high life, without much mind for the sheep’s well being or health.
Important side note: Shepherd is kind of doublespeak for king in the Old Testament. Think of David, when Samuel tried to anoint all of his other brothers as king (but the Lord rejected them) and David was the only one left, what was he doing? He was in the field, tending the sheep.
Shepherd David=King David.
Back to the story, the rulers of Israel have been falling down on the job, and God’s not real pleased about that. So,
“The Sovereign Lord says, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice'” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16)
God wants to be a shepherd (remember, that means king). But this kingship looks a little different. The shepherds of Israel only cared about themselves. In all their self-attention, they let the sheep wander off. Some couldn’t find food, some were eaten by wild animals, and the shepherds couldn’t see beyond their own staffs (Ezekiel 34:1-6).
But, Ezekiel’s image of God as shepherd is one who takes it upon himself to go out and recover those who have been lost. To literally gather in and feed those sheep who are hungry, to heal the hurt and broken sheep.
This king isn’t hanging out at any palace or castle, this king is roaming the countryside, on the move, not settling for anything less than the justice he brings.
Which is striking, because much of the church celebrates Christ the King Sunday this weekend as well. And for all the times people want to make a difference between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament, you can’t do that here. Sorry.
Because this God looks a lot like the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.
This God and king doesn’t send the hungry away for food or have someone else do it, he feeds the sheep.
This king doesn’t leave the sick and broken behind in favor of the healthy and whole, he restores them to fullness of life.
This king is resolute, he’s set on this course and nothing you or I can do will change his mind. “I the Lord have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:24)
Are these God’s New Year’s Resolutions?
That’s hard to believe given what’s about to happen for most of us.
Next week, we in the U.S., will celebrate Thanksgiving, and on Friday (or sometimes Thursday), people will rush out of their houses at bizarre hours to buy a bunch of stuff, for them, or their family, or close friend maybe.
Get the best deal. Be self-interested. Rush from giving thanks to buying gifts for Christmas.
Hey, in the world, we shouldn’t expect much else. That’s how their calendar works.
But we’ve got this other calendar that can really mess with our priorities if we let it.
This Sundy we’ll stand in church and proclaim Christ is king, a kingship marked by concern for the sheep who have wandered off, who are at the edge of society, maybe at the end of themselves.
Then, next Sunday we’ll begin
Christmas Advent. A season of waiting and self-denial (not unlike Lent). Advent holds up a giant “STOP” sign to our ways of running our lives (and holiday seasons).
Advent seems to say, “Hey, wait, don’t rush out for that new thing. That Jesus you just proclaimed king? Yeah, he’s coming, soon. Prepare yourself.”
And we’ll have a choice. If this whole Christian thing is about being transformed into the image of Christ (the king), we’ll have to decide whether we want our lives (our kingships and queenships) to reflect this astonishingly different way of kingship we see in Ezekiel. Or not.
If we’re being conformed to the image of Christ, then our new year’s resolutions (Advent resolutions) will take the shape of this King; the king who we’ll find in the manger, sure. But, also the king who will come and put all creation to rights and we’ll finally be able to see the fullness of the kingdom come.
Until then…happy new year!
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