Lambs and the Lamb of God

by Kathleen Glavich, SND on December 12, 2018

in Blogs

I‘m a city girl. My only experience with lambs was at a retreat house in West Virginia. There baby lambs and goats were running wild and jumping straight up into the air. I didn’t know they did that. (See the video at the end of this post by clicking on the link.) Most Nativity sets include at least one lamb and a shepherd. We think it is sweet that a lamb is present. Lambs are gentle, docile, charming creatures. To call someone a lamb is a compliment, an endearing term.  However, the presence of a lamb at Jesus’ birth has hidden meanings. It has ominous overtones, for it foreshadows the newborn’s destiny.

When the Israelites in Egypt marked their doorways with a lamb’s blood, they were overlooked by the Angel of Death. They were saved by a lamb. Then they ate the lamb. Later, in the Jewish Temple, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed each year on the eve of Passover. For good reason, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. Jesus, the sinless, unblemished one would save the world by atoning for our sins by shedding his blood and dying. The lamb at the manger reminds us that this baby was born to die. At every Mass we address Jesus, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” not once but three times. And then we consume the Lamb.

Shepherds visiting the manger is also significant. In the first century shepherds were low class people and even outcasts, yet angels bring the good news of salvation to them, not kings. (God has a preferential option for the poor.) The Bethlehem shepherds bow in awe before the infant who would become the Great Shepherd. Jesus guides us to the green pastures of heaven. He called himself the Good Shepherd. We can trust in his love and care for us. In a parable, Jesus promised to go after us when we stray from him. He even laid down his life for us. We can live a safe and at times exciting life by following him wherever he goes.

No wonder Psalm 23, the Divine Shepherd psalm, is the favorite psalm of many people. It was composed by David, Jesus’ ancestor, who too was a shepherd. I imagine Jesus and Mary prayed it often.

Where has following the good shepherd taken you?

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

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