He Carries Us Close to His Heart (Advent 2017)

One of the Advent passages for this week contains one of my favorite verses of all time (Isa. 40:11):

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

I’m not sure there’s a more gentle, tender image of God in all of Scripture. Close your eyes and take a moment to picture the scene: a shepherd holding a lamb in his arms like an infant, near to his chest. Comfort, peace, and love flowing from one to the other.

I believe that we are always living in that reality, that God is always holding us near to his chest. But of course, we often don’t feel near to God. I reflected on this tension between seemingly contradictory realities in my last Advent post. But in this post, I want to think about what it means when we are able to experience the reality of God’s embrace. What do we do on the days where, for reasons we don’t understand, we feel the gift of God’s presence?

This might seem like a strange question. Isn’t it like asking, “What should I do when I’m healthy?” or “What should I do when nothing’s wrong?”  (The answers to those questions are, respectively, “…don’t go to the doctor…?” and “Stop overthinking your life!”) But actually, I think the following questions get more to the spirit of what I was wondering: “What should I do when I have two coats and my neighbor has none? Or when I have more than I need to get through the day?”

Yesterday was one of those days for me. I felt hope. Maybe even joy. I felt love welling up in me and I knew that I wanted to share it. There was a brief moment where I thought, Well this is a nice change, maybe I should just sit back and enjoy it. But I also felt this clear sense that if I hoarded the love it would wither up and dissolve, whereas if I gave it away it would grow and thrive. I wondered if giving it away was actually the best way to enjoy it.

As a result of my decision to be open-handed with my love, I drove to Oak Lawn three times yesterday and cooked two dinners. When I got to the end of the day I thought, Maybe I pushed too hard. But it also sort of felt good, like how you feel after a satisfying workout.

For many of you, the message you probably need to hear is to rest more, do less, make more time to be still, etc. That’s a message I need a lot of days, and if that’s you, please feel free to take a pass on this one. But I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to anyone out there who feels alive to God’s more-than-enough-ness today. If you woke up this morning filled with an unexpected sense of joy, consider who in your life you could share it with. Because there are a lot of people who struggle to get out of bed each morning. And it’s not your job to “fix” them, but it might be your joy to love them.

The gift of community is that we get to benefit from a wide array of experiences happening simultaneously. When one person is down in a pit, another can extend their hand. When someone feels like all they see is darkness, another can describe the sunrise coming up over the horizon. On days when I can’t imagine that God could possibly be holding me, it feels like salvation for a flesh-and-blood human to sit with me and see me in my pain. And on days where I’m somehow able to be that presence for others – tenderly holding someone who feels forgotten by God – I feel it for the privilege it is.

This is what it means to embody love – to let God’s love flow through us to broken and hurting people who feel far from God.


For Reflection:

  1. When was the last time you felt like God was holding you?
  2. Have you ever experienced God’s love through another person?
  3. Who in your life could you extend love to today?