The year when the natural world seemed to turn against us as it started with bushfires that soon morphed into floods and…then came a microscopic virus. The events of this year were quickly labelled as being ‘unprecedented’, but Ecclesiastes tells us ‘what has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ Which means that to God, who has watched our world for all of time, there are no surprises. So it is safe for us to put our trust in him as a sheep trusts its shepherd.
We’ll hear a lot of talk about shepherds at the moment as we consider Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Ezekiel 34 invites us to consider God – or, prophetically, Jesus – as our one true shepherd. So to round out the year I have prepared a simple reflection on 2020, with a little help from Ezekiel chapter 34.
We’ll start at verse 11.
11For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
Those in Mernda and Doreen and across the Plenty Valley.
Those within 5km, within 25km, within metropolitan Melbourne.
Those beyond the ring of steel in regional Victoria.
And those further still, to the ends of the earth.
12As 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.
On a day when the skies filled with smoke and turned from red to black, and watch and act warnings turned to ‘too late to leave’.
On a day when schools and businesses closed their doors for the foreseeable future and curfews closed the roads at 8pm.
A day when the people were scattered to their homes to close their doors on winter, on travel plans, on celebrations, on visits from loved ones.
Days of isolation and quarantine.
13I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.
And from there, voices from across the nations will join together – virtually – to sing a blessing over our world.
To pray that the Lord’s favour will be upon us and a thousand generations and our children. To declare that:
His presence [may] go before you,
And behind you, and beside you,
And all around you, and within you
He is with you,
He is for you.
[The Lord says] I will pasture [my sheep] on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14I will tend them in a good pasture…[where] they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
They will feed on messages of hope displayed in the windows of their neighbours, reminding them that this too would pass.
They will feed on the artwork of children rendered in rainbow colours across the footpaths, reminding them to stay home, to stay safe, and that we are all in this together.
They will feed on the good pasture that comes in the form of the Uber Eats hatchback and the Rivers of Yarrambat delivery car.
15I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.
While the governments and health departments will set the restrictions of what the people are able to do, I, the Lord myself, will tend to their spirits.
In the small hours of the night after the long hours of the day…of waiting…of watching virus case numbers…of washing hands and wiping surfaces…of juggling work with remote learning…of resolving technological failures…of wiping away tears…
In those moments when there is quiet, loneliness, uncertainty, impatience, fear.
In those moments when a new normal begins and adjustments are made – again – to what can and cannot be done.
I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down in my arms; in my ‘never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love’.
16I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…
Those who are grieving without the comfort of loved ones.
Those who are battling health issues of body and mind.
Those who are not safe within the walls of their homes.
Those who have been shattered by this year and yearn for the chance to be restored.
25“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season;
For there is a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to open and a time to close,
A time to greet and a time to farewell,
And a time to move forward and a time to wait.
[And] there will be showers of blessing.
Blessing for those who have the opportunity to reunite with loved ones, to see one another face-to-face.
Blessing for those who receive Christmas hampers and gifts in times of need.
Blessing of the hope that comes with a new year for new beginnings, new dreams, new opportunities.
Blessing of knowing that even when facing the unknown, that the Lord is sovereign.
Blessing of knowing that when the ground is scorched or soaked and seemingly barren and bereft, that renewal will come to the land as it will to the mind, the heart, the soul.
27The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land.
Secure beneath the banner of the love that comes from the one true shepherd.
[And] They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.
From the hands of fear and anxiety.
The hands of judgement and condemnation.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
30…they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
The Sovereign Lord who loved the world so much that he sent his only son to redeem and restore all of creation to himself. The angel in Luke said: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.
God is with us.
God is for us.
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given…and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…and he will reign…over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from [this] time on and forever.
You see good news doesn’t just come in the form of a North Face jacket…it comes in swaddling cloths and lies in a manger. As a baby whose first visitors were shepherds. A baby who grew up to become the shepherd for us, his people, who he calls by name. ‘Come, follow me’ Jesus says. And we know his voice and we respond to the call and we are restored.
Even in this year.
I wonder how our belonging to the flock of the One True Shepherd will inform the way we will bring closure this year.
I wonder how our knowledge of him will inform the way we engage with those around us who do not yet know Jesus.
God is with us.
God is for us.
And my prayer for you as we move through this Advent season and close the door on 2020 is that you might live in the freedom and restoration that comes from responding to the call of your One True Shepherd.
For your good, and for his glory.
Peace be with you.
 The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones, 2007, Zondervan.