“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23 vs 1 & 6
Don’t you just wonder why some of the pop songs we associate with Christmas are so popular? When you actually listen to the words they are so bleak and range from despair The Pogues “Fairytale of New York” comes to mind; they tell of love betrayed... “last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away”; or of disillusionment Greg Lake’s “I believe in Father Christmas.... “They sold me a dream of Christmas, they sold me a silent night and they told me a fairy story 'till I believed in the Israelite.” O dear.... roll on January.
By contrast to all that disappointment and distrust, can there be a more familiar expression of hope and faith, a clearer witness to God’s care than the familiar words of Psalm 23? In grace the Lord gives everything we need, though maybe not everything we want. Yet that too is part of his care. He knows what we need and what will harm us and sometimes, as Garth Brooks sang (since we’re on a musical theme) “just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care 'cause some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
There are times when God feeds our souls bidding us rest, when he refreshes our souls and leads us in righteousness. When in the darkest valleys and life is in peril his shepherd’s care is right there with us. Even in lean times he provides our material needs, and at last brings us by his mercy into his presence forever. No disillusionment here from David but an outpouring of praise and witness. This has all been experienced personally and it is that personal, loving care that he proclaims in these familiar words. Truly, the Lord is a shepherd to all who know and follow him. The Shepherd of our souls.
In Israel the shepherd’s work often kept him from regular temple worship and the nature of it made him ceremonially unclean so they tended to be despised by the religious types, all of which makes it an amazing act of grace that it was shepherds who first were told the good news of the Saviour’s birth. Yet the one they came to see in that lowly stable was no less than the Creator of all things and when they gazed upon that infant face they looked on the face of God. That blows me away!
Here in infant frame was the perfect Shepherd of Israel, faithful to his calling where others had failed, following in the footsteps of his shepherd-king forbearer but now without his failings to become in the end the spotless Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. His was a sacrifice sufficient for all who would come to him in repentance and faith. To us he brings hope for despair, true love in place of betrayal, and joy to the disillusioned.