A couple of years ago our family traveled to a city in Europe to spend our Thanksgiving holiday. It happened that a former student of mine was studying there at the time. We planned to worship on Sunday in a church there on the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday following Thanksgiving that year. On our first full day there, i wanted to find the church, and i was walking with my family through the streets near the church, trying to read the map i had with me. i'm usually a good map reader and have a good sense of direction, but i simply could not find my way through the twisted streets of this ancient city. i was becoming increasingly frustrated, when i looked up to see my former student standing in front of our family group, smiling at us. i was overjoyed to see him and, after we greeted each other, i told him of my difficulty in finding my way. He said that we were almost where we wanted to be and guided us to the church, where he often worshipped. He was so familiar with the church that he was able to give us a detailed history of the church as he led us through it, pointing out the wonderful artwork and alerting us to many features of the church that we would have missed had we found it on our own. After our visit to the church, he led us to a wonderful restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious lunch and learned that the restaurant itself was filled with amazing history, having been there for over two hundred years.
As i thought of Jesus as our guide this morning, the day after Christmas, i as reminded of the great joy i felt when my student appeared as if out of nowhere at just the time i needed a guide. Suddenly my anxiety disappeared. i knew that i could rely on my student and friend to lead us where we wanted to go, that the pressure of finding our way was taken away from me and replaced by reliance on someone who knew the way, having already traveled that way many times before. In just the same way, i know that i can rely on Jesus to be my guide. i have only to look up from the study of my own map and turn the anxiety and worry of finding my way over to him, confident in the knowledge that he will guide me to the place of peace and service that i seek.
This morning, i thought of Jesus as a shepherd, too. As i reflected on Jesus-as-shepherd, two images popped into my mind. First, came the familiar images of Psalm 23, of the shepherd who leads us to a pleasant place, who protects us from danger, who provides for our needs and blesses us forever. Next, i remembered Jesus' story of the lost sheep and was reminded of the phrase from Isaiah: "All we like sheep have gone astray." Like a shepherd, God seeks us as we wander lost in a wilderness of our own making. Once God has found us, then we can rely on God and the teachings of Jesus to be our guide, but it is God that does the seeking and finding. Think of how David was called from his duties as a shepherd while still a boy to be anointed by Samuel to be the future king of Israel. It was not David who sought such a future, it was God who sent Samuel to seek out David. It was God who called David, rather than David saying, "God be my guide so that I can become someone great."
God seeks us and, if we don't run from God, God rescues us. God provides a guide for us, if we lift our heads from poring over the map we have devised for our lives, the map that has led us into the wilderness that separates us from God. i pray that this day i will allow God to guide me, giving me the peace that comes from following God rather than stumbling along on my own.