We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track. NOTE: This same track will play on Dec. 21 & 22:
He Shall Feed His Flock Like A Shepherd
“Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
A curious thing happens in today’s Scripture text; whether it was Handel or Jennens who did it, we cannot tell. But the text has been changed from the “first person” to the “third person”; changed from Messiah inviting us “come unto me”, to another in His place inviting us to “come unto Him”. At this point in the oratorio, one can imagine, an excited Handel or Jennens jumping on stage and pleading: “Come unto Him”.
Messiah’s invitation to come to Him is for those who are weary, not from physical labor, but from religion. It is for any who are exhausted from trying to be good enough, worn out from trying to keep the rules. The harshest words Jesus ever spoke targeted the religious leaders: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). It was religion that burdened people, making them weary of life. It is to such people Jesus offered rest from all the frantic effort to try and measure up.
Religious leaders in Jesus’ day referred to their religious disciplines as a “yoke” put on people to bear. But Jesus invites people to take His yoke and find rest for their souls. Messiah comes not to start another religion, but to free people from religion and its harsh demands. Jesus calls us not to a life of ease, but to a life free from the pressures of trying to be good enough, trying to win God’s love.
Jesus had been a village carpenter, and knew how to craft yokes for the farmers’ oxen. He knew how to chisel and shape a wooden yoke just right for each animal, a perfect fit. He could tailor a yoke that was ‘easy’, and wouldn’t scrape or bruise the animal’s neck. So Jesus offers us a yoke for us, right, easy, and a perfect fit.
But Jesus does ask something of us: only that we be ready to receive from Him. So rest from your feverish labors, rest from ever trying to be good enough. He is “meek and lowly of heart”, and will take us just as we are. Eugene Peterson, in his insightful paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, offers this wonderful reading of today’s text:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-29).
Today’s music is a sequential duet, with the soprano following closely on yesterday’s alto (“He shall feed his flock…”). As part of a duet, the soprano continues on in a higher range, singing Jesus’ invitation in the third person. The music is in the same warm, gracious pastoral style of yesterday’s “Pifa”. It is the music of lowly shepherds, in which we hear the “meek and lowly” voice of our Good Shepherd calling His sheep to rest in His arms.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.