1. When in your life have you felt forgotten or lonely? Do you know anyone with circumstances similar to when you felt forgotten?
2. Has comparing your life to others ever made you feel lonely? When are you most tempted to compare? And in what areas do you tend to feel inferior after those comparisons?
3. Have you taken some time to ask God how He wants you to be involved this season with loving the lonely? What is He speaking to your heart?
Welcome to Hope City, I’m Pastor Peter. Glad you’re here to celebrate Christmas with us! If you’re new to Hope City, we are a non-denominational Christian Church.
As a church, we’ve spent December looking at how the Birth of Jesus Christ brings a Thrill of Hope to the world around us.
Christmas brings so many memories back to my mind… I wonder what some of those favorite Christmas memories are for you? I always loved waking up on Christmas morning and our entire family being in the same room. Dad would get a fire going in the fire place, and my sisters would get cozy on the couch, and my mom would sit on the love seat, while my dad sat at the base of the Christmas tree handing out each present, one at a time while we all watched what gifts were being given to one another.
As a kid I can remember eyeing all of the presents under the tree wondering which one’s had my name on it. Wondering who the biggest present was for… There was one year that I’ll never forget, because I didn’t get the big present. Have you ever showed up somewhere and you recognize quickly that they weren’t prepared for you? Like they forgot that you were coming to the party and they quickly put out another place setting…. “Look hunny, look who is here… Greg came!” “Oh yeah! That’s Great…”
Well I remember sitting there as a little kid looking around realizing that there were no more presents under the tree. Of course I had opened beautiful packages, and enjoyed those gifts… but I had my hopes up on that big present. And there was nothing in sight. It looked like I had been forgotten.
Being forgotten, or left out, is one of the quickest ways to lose hope isn’t it? This is why many of us look back at Middle School and say, OH MAN, NEVER AGAIN! It was a tumultuous time of being in and out… included and excluded. Finding your place… It was a season of life. But can you imagine if that was your life?
Today, we’re going to look at this group of people in the Gospel of Luke. As these words are spoken to a group of people who lived on the fringe of society, literally living on the hillsides of the community, watching sheep. And yet, in the midst of their life, God brings a Thrill of Hope to a group of lonely SHEPHERDS.
Let’s not miss out on the fact that those living on the fringe of society were those who God came to bless FIRST in the Christmas story.
So open your Bible to Luke 2:8-12, that’s page 699 in the bibles around you, or follow along on the screen behind me.
We’ll start at verse 8. Let’s read God’s Word together:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And this is AMAZING! The original birth announcement of Jesus Christ, our Savior… came first to SHEPHERDS! A group of people who were often Illiterate, uneducated migrant field workers.
Think about it. If the Son of God was born on earth today, who do you think would first receive the good news? From a worldly mindset, you might think God might first go to those with Great Power!
Just last week, our nation mourned the loss of our 41st president, George H.W. Bush. The whole ceremony was incredible. I had it streaming in the background of my computer… and it was a notable list of who’s who that attended the funeral.
Every living president and their wife, every living vice president, foreign dignitaries like Prince Charles of Wales, Angela Merkel the chancellor of Germany, the King and Queen of Jordan. And than some notable figures from home… Supreme court justices, and even NFL’s Peyton Manning made the list.
This is what you expect. You expect Presidents and Royalty to be surrounded by VIP’s…. Those who have achieved the same status.
Now contrast that with the birth of Jesus. God sends His Son to be born in the dirt & the dung of a barn and announces it to SHEPHERDS! And you may think, I know every year when I set out the nativity scene I put out the shepherds. That’s cool, not really sure what the big deal is with them being there.
For years… I’m talking years… my family had a tradition when I was growing up that we would haul down our nativity scene and as a family we would set this out all together. We had the little porcelain figurines, and every year they would come out of the box all wrapped in tissue paper. We would each take turns reaching in and drawing out a figure at the manger scene. And your job was to explain what the different people meant in the Christmas story and what role they played.
Well, we had Mary and Joseph, there was the manger itself, and then of course you’d reach in and root around for the littlest package hoping that it would be Baby Jesus. OH! It’s another sheep. There were like 4,000 sheep in this set. So my sisters and I had to come up with as many explanations for the sheep. The sheep remind us that Jesus is the pure spotless lamb, He is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the Passover lamb… and every other lamb observation from scripture that we could think of.
In all of my years of doing this with my family, I never once was quite able to talk about the shepherds. Sure, I knew who they were, I knew what they did. But I had no idea just how important they were, or how important it was that they were included in the story. This is partly why I’m so intrigued by today’s message…
Think about it. THE SHEPHERDS were the first people to be told that the promised Messiah was here. It wasn’t the religious faithful, it wasn’t the wealthy upper-class, it was a group of common, ordinary shepherds.
And yet, God spoke clearly and directly to them.
What you may not understand is that the shepherds were one of the most NEGLECTED, DISRESPECTED, and FORGOTTEN groups of people in the Middle East.
Why did Shepherds feel forgotten by God and others? I’ll give you a couple reasons. The first reason shepherds felt forgotten is that they were:
Shepherds were POOR and POWERLESS.
Shepherds were the “bottom of the barrel” in Israel– uneducated, illiterate, and worked a low-paying job no one else wanted.
They spent their life caring for smelly sheep! And guess what, they smelled too. When I was in Israel we spent some time around shepherds, and while much has changed in 2,000 years. The principle is still the same. These guys were manhandling sheep, moving them where they needed to go, caring for them, and getting down in the dung and dirt of these animals. Let me put it this way, we didn’t see any shepherds with a secret service detail.
Shepherds had no power & little influence. They were treated like undocumented workers. Not to be trusted. As outcasts in Israel, they were told by religious leaders, “You are not good enough for our religion. You are not good enough for God.” As nomads, their job took them on the road. They went from one field to the next. One night here, another night there. A shepherd might be on the road for weeks or even months. But instead of staying in an extended stay hotel, they were on the back of a hill somewhere. Which meant that they couldn’t go to the Temple, and they were declared ceremonially unclean. So much so that a religious person wouldn’t even touch a shepherd, because if their body touched a shepherd, then they would be considered spiritually unclean, as well. And so, you can only imagine how poor & forgotten they felt—the religious people have overlooked them.
Isn’t it odd how at Christmas we can feel this same sting? You miss out on the Christmas Party, or didn’t get the invite. Or no one seems to remember you at this time of the year. Surely someone still sends out Christmas Cards, right? It seems like everyone else is living the life.
It’s amazing, when we compare ourselves to others, how inferior we can feel, right?
On a heart level, shepherds felt: Shepherds felt Lonely and Unloved.
Because they were nomadic— always on the move—they formed few lasting relationships. It was typically them, their flock—and 2 or 3 other shepherds. Out in the field. In the cold. All alone.
Shepherds were lonely. Avoided by others… and seemingly forgotten by God. At Christmas we are reminded that God has a special place in his heart for the Lost, the Lonely the Overlooked, and the forgotten. That God sent His son Jesus to bring Hope To All. For God so loved THE WORLD, that he sent his only son… why? So that no one was going to be left without Hope.
There are people in our world today who experience this on the daily. They wake up in the morning and wonder if they matter to anyone, and say things like, “God have you forgotten me?” If you’ve been around Hope City for any length of time you know that Foster Care is close to our heart. And this is a group of people that are often pushed to the fringe of society, and forgotten about. At Hope City we have become good friends with an organization that has decided to ensure that there are no foster kids who feel forgotten. I’m grateful for our friends at “The Twig” and I’m honored to have Nicole Britton here today the director of development from the Twig… would you help me welcome Nicole?
Interview with Nicole Britton
Nicole thanks for being with us!
You guys work first hand with Foster Kids, and Foster Families… We’re grateful for your work.
- Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys do at the TWIG? (shopping days, emergency provisions, foster kids having a constant in the midst of change… etc…)
- How many foster Kids are there in Sarasota County right now?
- What do you think is one of the greatest needs in the Fostering Community? (is it hope to endure the challenge of loving kids?)
- When you are tempted to forget about the foster crisis in our community, what stories come to mind, what keeps you going back to work each day?
Can you help me thank Nicole for all that she is doing to serve this community?
Good News & Great Joy!
It’s incredible, isn’t it? To think that we have our very own modern-day shepherds, people living day to day feeling forgotten and alone… But Christmas I hope that the Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds is even more meaningful than ever before!
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
God has sent a SAVIOR to you! This is only 1 of 2 places in the Gospels where Jesus is referred to as “Savior.” IOW: This is God’s rescue plan for those on the fringe!
Instead of you trying to work your way to Heaven (religion)… I’m bringing Heaven down to you (relationship with my son Jesus!)
I’m hand-delivering EVIDENCE of God’s GOODNESS & GRACE— in the form of a tiny baby.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
IOW: Dressed like a shepherd! “Cloths” literally means “rags”… A manger is a feeding trough for animals. The Son of God is born… amidst the dirt & dung. This is the Good News (Gospel) delivered by the Angel! Don’t be afraid! Don’t be lonely.
You’re not alone! You’re not forgotten! You matter to God! And God’s Grace & Love come FIRST to those on the fringe!
Instead of “dressing up” to work your way to God…. Trying to become someone important, or do something important… God’s Son intentionally “dressed down” to come to us. That’s the Incarnation—God with skin on. Heaven’s King becoming Poor & Powerless—taking on the humility & vulnerability of a child on Xmas.
Look what happens next…
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
That my friends is the Gospel in a nutshell. The Good News announced by the angel. God is not distant… don’t be afraid… He is your Heavenly Father! And your Father is a generous giver. At Christmas, God gave his one & only Son Jesus to die in our place. And through simple faith in Him, we have eternal life.
This Gospel came first to Shepherds—who were painfully aware of their need. God first drew close to those who were isolated… and offered intimacy. God comes to those who can barely pay their bills… and cancels their debt. And makes them a co-heir to the throne of Heaven. God says all of you who feel forgotten, can forget about that. I’ve come so you may have life and life to the fullest!
God is near to those kids this year who find themselves lonely and unloved, or poor and powerless. Not only is he near… He is bringing PEACE! God is in the business of Bringing Peace. Peace to you and peace to all.
Do you notice what else? It took a whole company of the heavenly hosts to proclaim this.
It wasn’t just one person. It was a company of angels potentially 100 or more angels bringing this message. Imagine this, if one angel caught you off guard, what would it have been like if it were 100 angels!
Remember that Christmas morning I was telling you about? The one where I felt left out and forgotten? Let me finish the story. So I’m sitting there on the floor and I hear my dad say, “Well, Sarah, that’s my mom, I think there’s ONE MORE!” And he gets up to leave the room.
Right now in my little 10 year old heart, I knew I didn’t want to get my hopes up… but I thought, MAYBE… Maybe I’m not actually forgotten about. And in walks my dad with a gift that looks like this… And do you know what it says? MY NAME ON IT. IT SAYS MY NAME!
Imagine my surprise, and my delight as I tore open the present to find a knock hockey board that would provide hours of fun… but even more than that, the feeling that I felt of I was remembered, I was made to feel special, I was loved.
What if we as a church delivered this kind of reminder to those who find themselves in a Foster Home? What if we delivered this kind of message to all of those loving parents who have opened their home to welcome an instant family, or increase their family… what if we reminded that that they aren’t forgotten or alone. That there is a group of people who are cheering them on, loving them, and supporting them!
As a part of our HOPE FOR ALL OFFERING we are going to be reaching BEYOND OUR WALLS. And we have started to brainstorm with Nicole and others at the Twig about what it would look like for us to send a BOX OF HOPE in the mail to 200 Foster Families to remind them that they aren’t forgotten. We want them to know that we are #FORthem, and that they aren’t alone. We want to let them know: “You Matter to God! And you matter to Us!”
We had the idea of sending them a surprise in the mail and bringing joy to the hearts of everyone in the house. Ensuring that no one feels forgotten. After all, Christmas is a time when God sent the greatest gift, the greatest message of hope in a small bundle wrapped in cloths. And he set it in the manger for the world to see.
At Xmas, God sent His Son to show his love for those who felt forgotten… and this next year we’ve made it our goal to do the same thing in JESUS NAME!
No one is without Hope, because Jesus, IMMANUEL, God with us, has come. He is Here! And we should have the same response as the shepherds… We’re going to go and tell everyone about it! We’re going to REACH BEYOND OUR WALLS and share the greatest news we know!
WOULD YOU PRAY WITH ME?