ISAIAH 40:1-11 ; MATTHEW 18:12-14

Surely the two readings we have just heard proclaimed confront us this evening with the high paradox of our Christian faith.   The more we experience of God, Second Isaiah tells us, the greater our joy, and yet, at the same time, he makes the point that we are weak and poor creatures, no better that withered grass.  "Comfort, comfort, my people ... our God comes to save us ... all flesh is but grass that withers." To heighten our confidence that God truly does actively intervene in our lives to bring us salvation, the prophet informs us that God directs him "to speak tenderly to the heart of my people."   To provide further reason for putting our reliance on his message he goes on to affirm that "the word of our God stands forever.  That being the case, it continues to be in force; this message of comfort and reassurance holds, he affirms, not only to the people returning from exile to a ravaged country, but to all generations, including our own.   Not satisfied with proclaiming such hopeful prospects, Isaiah who depicted this comforting God as coming with power and ruling with a strong arm, adds that now he "brings recompense before him.  Like a shepherd He feels his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them close to His bosom, and leads the ewes with care." This image reinforces the paradox: God's strength is manifested in his care for us, his weak, straying creatures.  Saint Paul made this same point, based on his own experience: "when I am weak then I am strong" he told the Corinthian community.  (2 Cor 12:10)

The Gospel just read takes up the image of God's tender concern for the weakest members of his flock.  "Is it not the will of your heavenly Father that none of these little ones be lost?" Rather, like the shepherd "who loses one of the hundred sheep in the flock, he goes to search it out and finding it, carries it back on his shoulders" to safety.

Through both of today's readings we are reminded that Advent prepares us to welcome into our hearts this same God.  He sends even now his beloved Son to us in this sacrament of the Eucharist.  In doing so he brings us together at this altar, and gives us, through communion in the body and blood of Jesus, the comforting assurance that our God is not only powerful to save but tender in comforting us, the sheep of his flock.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger