At first reading these words from the first line of Psalm 23 could be understood as "wishful thinking" or pie-in-the-sky platitude.
Do we really have all that we need?
I need healing for my new hip and especially for the angry muscles that were stretched and abused during the surgery.
You need things too. You need jobs and meaningful work to pay rent or mortgage. You need food and clothing, shelter and safety, love and relationships in community where loneliness and longing can be shared. Tensions and conflicts need resolution. We all need to be heard and understood and validated as valuable human beings.
The first part of the verse is key to understanding. The psalmist uses a metaphor that can be lost on us who live an urban life. A sheep is dependent upon the care of the Shepherd. The Shepherd sees the sheep, knows them and their needs, protects and defends them from devouring predators, and provides for their needs. When we know ourselves as sheep cared for by the Lord who is Shepherd, we can rest in those green pastures that the psalmist refers to later.
Jesus says that everything we need will come when we seek and surrender to the love and care of the Father, the saving rescue of God's Son, and the comforting, generous presence of God's Spirit. We will still need jobs to pay rent, food and clothing, shelter and safety. But the Shepherd knows the needs of the sheep-- each and every one of them. The Shepherd is a generous provider.
So, we sheep pray: "Shepherd, I need you and I give you my needs. Help me recognize that you are caring for these needs even in the presence of uncertainty, hunger, or failure. Show me what I need to do even as I struggle to trust you with every circumstance. By faith I will say, 'The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.' In Jesus' name, Amen.
Last week, I ruminated about being a singing little girl who learned a lot of lyrics. These have stayed with me and continue to form me today.
I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus as Lord when I was twenty-two years old. I believe that before that time, the lyrics of the music I sang were the evangelist that continually invited me to come. My theology, that is, who I believe God to be—God the Father, God the Son and Savior, and God the Holy Spirit—was formed first through the lyrics of the music I sang.
Particularly, Christmas lyrics have taught me some enduring truths. Here are some of these truths that God continues to form within me.
1. The Father's Love: Of the Father's Love Begotten tells us that God's love for us was the motivating force for the Son's coming.
2. Jesus is God: Thou Dist Leave Thy Throne tells us that Jesus left his throne and his rule as the second member of the Trinity. "He is Alpha and Omega. He the Source the Ending He."[i] "He left behind his kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me." [ii] Even me. Even you.
3. Weakness is strength: We despise weakness but God's economy is different than the world's economy. Infant Holy, Infant Lowly tells us a different story about weakness.
Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the babe is Lord of all.
The "Holy Infant, so tender and mild" from Silent Night (lyrics 1818) and the early 19th century lyrics of Once in Royal David's City tell us that though he was equal with God and Lord of all, he came to us as a weak and dependent infant. This was backwards and unexpected to those in Jesus' time who wanted the Messiah to be a powerful ruler who would overthrow evil. But the power of God is released in the infant Messiah who was also God. He will save his people from their sins.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. [iii]
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall
With the poor, oppressed and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy.[iv]
4. The Coming of Christ is a big deal: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and While shepherds watched their flocks (both circa 1700) tell us how excited angels spilled out of heaven to celebrate that in the birth of Jesus on this night in Bethlehem, the long-awaited Redeemer of the sin of the world arrived on earth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th'angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.[v]
5. Making room for Christ as Lord is still the invitation: The crowded conditions at the Inn that night in Bethlehem meant that Mary gave birth to the Christ child in a stable. There was no room for Jesus. Christmas lyrics often point to the same crowded conditions of human hearts. We too must choose to make room for the Lordship of Christ,
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee."[vi]
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for Thee."[vii]
6. When we make room for Jesus in our hearts, we worship Him as Lord and Savior: The angels told the shepherds to "Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King."[viii] The beautiful carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful invites Jesus-followers of all generations to set aside what crowds our hearts and lives and come to worship Christ the infant King. Because of Christ Jesus, "a weary world rejoices."
This invitation comes to us from the heart of the Father who loves us. May we love Him in return.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
Christ, the Lord."
Christ Jesus, thank you for coming. By your Spirit, may we join together to worship you at Christmas-tide and all year. Enable us to make room in our crowded hearts and to receive you as Lord and Savior!
[i] Aurelius Prudentius, Of the Father's Love Begotten, 4th century.
[ii] Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1864.
[iii] Charles Wesley, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, 1744
[iv] Cecil Frances Alexander, Once in Royal David's City, 1848.
[v] Charles Wesley, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, 1739.
[vi]Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1836-1897.
[vii] Martin Luther, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, 1535.
[viii] Angels We Have Heard on High (a traditional French carol)