I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.John 11:11
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… John 11:14
The images of sheep and shepherd are woven throughout the Old Testament scriptures. From the image of David the shepherd who became king to the prophet Isaiah’s sheep going astray, these strokes paint for us a picture of a Messiah who shepherds his flock. So why is the character of a good shepherd one we should remember during Advent?
If you ask a farmer how sheep are unique compared to other farm creatures, they will tell you that there are several distinguishing features of sheep. While the features are not necessarily flattering, I’ve chosen three that I think help to explain why shepherding is an apt metaphor throughout the scriptures.
Sheep are flocking creatures. Like sheep, we tend to clump together, sharing cultures, beliefs and values. On our own, we don’t do the best job of making choices about our flocking behaviors; a shepherd provides direction for the flock.
Sheep are followers and need to be led. While you can argue whether or not individuals are followers, a short observation of human history shows that on our own we tend to choose to go places that are not good for us. Like sheep, we need a shepherd to lead us to green pastures and still waters, because, just like sheep, we won’t get there by ourselves.
Sheep are non-aggressive and therefore vulnerable to attack. While we may not share the extreme non-aggressive tendencies of sheep, we are equally easy prey. We need a shepherd to guard us against attacks, and in Christ we have a shepherd who not only protects us but also lays down his life for his sheep.
While these comparisons to characteristics of sheep may not put us in the best light, they do highlight our need for a shepherd who will protect and guide us. As we prepare to celebrate the coming of God in the flesh, remember that this is one of the many sacrifices made by our Good Shepherd, the Christ, who laid down his life for his sheep.