“Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock; he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them on his lap.” Isaiah 40:11a
As a young child, one of my fondest memories during the cold Christmas season was having my mother bundle me up in her arms wearing her blue pea coat, and going for a car ride to see the Christmas lights around town. There was something so safe, so peaceful and secure about those moments with her. As I think about it, there were many other times as a child when being “gathered up” in her loving arms was just what I needed.
As we begin this Advent week anticipating the love of God that comes in the gift of the Christ child, this passage from Isaiah offers us a tender and comforting message about the nature of God’s love. We often speak of God’s “sacrificial love” in Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NSRV) may be the most often quoted definition of God’s love. I am thankful for this message of sacrifice and the promise of life eternal, but sometimes it’s nice to be “gathered up” in the arms of love in the here and now.
This message of God’s comfort and care comes to the Israelite people after their arduous days in Babylonian exile. After some 60 years, they are released to return home. But 60 years of captivity and struggle can dampen your trust in a God of deliverance. While God’s promises of restoring love are eternal, the prophet is gloomy about the constant failing of humans to stay strong in their relationship with God’s covenant. Instead, they seem to “wither like grass,” never taking root in God’s Kingdom soil.
I see that every day. People who are not rooted in love living selfishly or even violently. In contrast, throughout my life and ministry, I have been blessed by so many saints of the faith who have poured out their love on me so that I would not wither in those desolate times of life.
So I guess we have a choice when we are deciding in just what or whom we will base our hope: the imperfect, finite human actions which will eventually wither and fade, or the infinite love of God that never leaves us, even in our weakest moments when we feel like a child who needs to be “gathered up.”
Yeah. I think I’ll stick with God.
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your Spirits loving embrace. Amen
Rev. John Farley
South District Superintendent
Dean of Cabinet