CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of The Holy Innocents by Martin Shannon

Praying With the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

Feast Of The Holy Innocents by Martin Shannon

From My Soul Waits

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (v. 1)

There is probably no other psalm that has been copied, recited in worship, prayed in private, and set to music more than Psalm 23.  The tones of rest and trust that permeate its six short verses strike a resonant chord in every human heart, for they describe that world of contentment and serenity for which we all long.  It is not a world that exists out there somewhere, however.  It is a world that exists because of someone.  It is the world created for his sheep by the Good Shepherd.  The Lord is the maker of this world, and only because of his guiding hand and provision – his loving-kindness and mercy – do the sheep dwell within its blessed gates.

The self-sacrificial love of the good shepherd for his sheep and his limitless dedication to their well-being was common knowledge in the ancient Middle East.  The psalmist turns to this familiar pastoral image to describe the depth of attention God gives to those under his care – even the weakest and the smallest.  This is not the image of a hired servant who considers himself of more value than his flock.  This is the image of the good shepherd who knows each sheep by name and who does not hesitate to lay down his life for any one of them, (John 10:12-15).

The psalmist takes an interesting turn of language in the middle of his song.  For the first three verses, it is as if the poet is telling those nearby about the all-sufficient care of the Lord: he provides for me; he leads me; he restores my soul; he brings me forth.  This is the testimony of someone fed in the lush pastures of God’s grace and refreshed with the cool waters of his mercy: You who will listen, let me tell you – the Lord is my shepherd. 

Then, in the face of the darkest trial of all – the overshadowing presence of death – it is as if the poet turns from those listening and looks into the face of the Shepherd: Because you are with me, I am not afraid.  Even here, in this valley of loss, I lack nothing, for you are with me.  And when at last my life here does run out, I will still be full, for I will be in your house.  Lord, you are my Shepherd.

From The Fathers

When you say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself. (Augustine)

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
These are your words, Lord.
Is it too much to think that you had me in mind when you spoke them?
Hardly holy, and certainly not innocent, but still your child…your lamb.
You had me in mind, and for that I will forever be grateful.
You are my Shepherd.
How full can one’s life possibly be?

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