Countdown to Christmas: Shepherd

 Rev. Aaron Rousseau

Trinity United Methodist Church
Gainesville, FL

First, read Micah 5:2-5a

Today marks the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the fewest hours of daylight.

The Church often uses this day to recognize that, while the holiday season brings celebrations of great joy, not everyone feels cheery or festive. So, they offer “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” services to create sacred space for those living through periods of darkness – mourning the death of loved ones, divorce or broken relationships, job loss, severe illness, or any other number of life experiences that make the holiday season painfully difficult.

The Longest Night Service happens to be one of my favorite worship services of the year.

Why, you ask?

Because the Church has the responsibility of meeting people precisely where they are, offering grace where there is pain, serenity where there is suffering, light where there is darkness, and hope where there is despair. The Longest Night creates the perfect opportunity for us to gather in community and do just that.

After all, what is the “good news of great joy” that we celebrate during this season of the Church really all about? I’ll let these song lyrics provide an answer:

“Good tidings to the world around
To the weak and the broken down
In a small, poor, and dirty town
Light has come

A baby splits history
Emmanuel, Savior, King
Come sinner, let your eyes see
Light has come”

Such was the message for the people of Israel from the prophet Micah - a message of hope. Though theirs was a world of distress and uncertainty, the people of Israel could take heart that God would keep God’s promise of a new “shepherd-ruler” from Bethlehem and the day would soon come when peace and righteousness would again reign in their lives. The words of the prophet Micah helped the people of Israel imagine a future different from their present circumstances.

Today, there are people all around us in desperate need of good news, people longing for a glimmer of hope for a future different from their present circumstances. Church, let us bring that good news.

Christ has come and, like Micah prophesied, “he will stand and shepherd his flock!” Jesus is sure to lead us on paths of peace and righteousness, and when we find ourselves walking through the darkest valleys, he will be there with his rod and staff to protect us.

Thanks be to God.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. When has Jesus been your “Good Shepherd,” protecting you in the darkest valleys of your life? Pause and give thanks.

2. Who do you know who is walking through dark valleys this holiday season? Pause and earnestly pray for them.

3. On this Winter Solstice, in what tangible ways can you “offer grace where there is pain, serenity where there is suffering, light where there is darkness, and hope where there is despair”? Pause and seek God’s leading.