Today is Christ the King Sunday and the last Sunday before Advent, the four weeks of waiting for the birth of the Christ Child and the return of Jesus Christ as King. Both this liturgical season and the holidays are much needed space to prepare the way for Christ the King to be born in our hearts. In days of winter isolation, it is time to take on the wonder and playfulness of a child.
The readings today lead us to take up the sacred role of shepherd leaders in our ordinary lives. In our families and communities, we walk in peace, share forgiveness and light in shadowy places, and make sure that no one is missing, but that all are cared for with inclusion in the way of Christ.
A reading from Ezekiel 34:11-16
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.[a] I will feed them in justice.
The prophet Ezekiel’s shepherd imagery is a hopeful intervention in which God assumes the role of the Good Shepherd who will gather the people together and initiate an age of peace and plenty.
A reading from Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’
This picture of Jesus Christ the King’s return is only found in Matthew. The one who came as a babe and took on the form of a sacrificial lamb will ultimately return as the glorious, the King, to declare the judgment of God on all people, all nations, both church and world. The rule of love will be applied in that those who served the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and prisoner, in actuality served Christ in the spiritual realm of God’s kingdom.
Practice. As a shepherd leader, gather those together you love to make room in your space and hearts to welcome Christ. Find a safe and active way to serve the weak, the stranger, the needy. Participate in Advent. Advent resources abound. Make or buy an advent wreath and pick up a guide for the weekly Advent prayers. You can also use the lectionary readings for each Sunday found in the link below to the Vanderbilt lectionary.
I myself will search (for you) and will seek (you) out. I will seek the lost, those who have strayed, and I will bind what is broken, and strengthen what is weak. Thus says the Lord God.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing. Psalm 23