Merry Christmas, everybody! Welcome to Hope City, I’m Pastor Peter. Glad you’re here to celebrate Christmas Eve with us! If you’re new to Hope City, we are a non-denominational Christian Church.
Quick show of HANDS: How many families are with kids here today?
Awesome, we love kids at Hope City! We’re glad to have the whole family in the room today. Mom’s let me set you at ease, your kids don’t need to be perfectly quiet, it’s all good. We’ve got an activity bag for every kid here today… If you missed them on your way in, and you need one now, slip your hand up, and one of our ushers will get you one right now!
I remember when I was a kid, I used to WRITE-OUT a Christmas list of the PRESENTS I wanted. Hoping that Santa would bring me something amazing in the big old bag of his… And I’d write them out: New Bike… Nerf Football… BB-Gun… I never did get that BB Gun… You’ll shoot your eye out someone said. J Every year I still hope for a BB Gun under the tree… After all, I’m just a big kid…
But times have changed. This year my kids asked, can we use the computer? Why? We need to put together our Christmas list. They were perusing the target website and Amazon… Gathering ideas online for Saint Nick! Apparently, He works for Amazon I guess!
Well, our theme this Xmas is “Illuminate” As a church, we’ve spent December looking at how the Birth of Jesus Christ illuminates, or brings light to the world around us. And in each of these Gospel stories, we have seen how God has brought HOPE to different people.
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 SHEPHERDS who were “keeping watch over their flocks at night.” And talk about the FEAR of FEELING FORGOTTEN, or left in the dark… especially on Christmas Eve!
Because Christmas can be a lonely time for many people. And sometimes we can get so caught up in the shopping, gift-giving, travel & cooking preparations. We can miss those living on the fringe of our lives who God came to bless FIRST on the original Xmas Eve.
So open your Bible to Luke 2:8-12, 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! 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! You know: People who dominate the Headlines: Like Trump. The Pope. Or Kim Jong Un;-) Okay maybe not Him, especially since he’s canceled Christmas…
In our world, royal births are a spectacle! Do you remember the birth of Prince George? Several years ago, William & Kate gave birth to Prince George who’s now heir to the throne of England. And they did what most parents do when they give birth to a future King: They dressed him like a little girl! Not rags, but royal lace! Isn’t that sorta weird? That’s the Official Portrait the House of Windsor sent out to dukes, royals, kings, Presidents, and leaders around the world.
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, Well, sure, I know the nativity scene has shepherds. That’s cool. 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.
Q: Now, 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 eked out a Subsistence Living caring for farm animals. You know that show “Dirty Jobs?” This was a dirty job! Their job required them to spend long hours with sheep. How do you think they smelled? Let me tell you how they smelled: Like a Porta John outside a biker bar.
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, kind of like a TRUCKER. A shepherd might be on the road for weeks or even months. Therefore, 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.
And reality is, that’s the way some of us can feel as well at times. Especially at Xmas. If you look around at everyone sitting in your section, they all look so Christmassy, and holy, and righteous. You’re like, Man, this church is full of pretty people! Pretty kids & handsome families. And you’re thinking to yourself, Man, if they saw my family’s Christmas card. We try to dress things up, but our family is a mess. Looks like the Nightmare Before Xmas!
It’s amazing, when we compare ourselves to others, how inferior we can feel, right? Maybe you’re here for the first time or maybe the first time in a long time, and you’re tempted to think that this place is filled with perfect people. Let me burst that bubble for you. No one in here is perfect, especially this guy!
In comparison to those around them, shepherds felt: Poor & Powerless.
Shepherds were POOR and POWERLESS.
Secondly, 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. They worked 24-7. There was no day off in “Shepherd World.”
In fact, that’s one of the reasons they were REJECTED by the religious system of their day: One of the big rules in Israel’s culture was, you had to keep the Sabbath. You had to take ONE DAY A WEEK of total rest to worship God. But shepherds couldn’t do that– because their job was round the clock, 7 days a week. They “kept watch over their flocks” 24/7… even at night!
That’s why they were “living out in the fields”—it’s not just where the grass was for their sheep. It was AWAY from where “proper people” lived. The religious mainstream. People with respectable families who did their Religious Duty!
Shepherds were lonely. Avoided by others… and seemingly forgotten by God.
And that’s tragic. Bc there was a NOBILITY to the work of shepherds that most people overlooked. Verse 8 says: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night…
Again, if you make a modern-day parallel. Today is Xmas Eve. Who’s working on Xmas Eve in our world? Who’s out there today “Keeping watch… at night?”
A: Oftentimes, folks working in the Service or Food Industries (restaurants, diners, gas stations, convenience stores)
Oftentimes, people in Public Service. First Responders– Police, Fire, or EMT. They’re literally “keeping watch over their flocks”… and we thank God for them! The job of Shepherds was to “protect & care” for the sheep—fighting off any would be attacks, binding wounds, making sure their flock under their care was warm & well-fed.
They were public servants. Like the nurse who’s one call in the Emergency Room tonight. But like many people in public service, they were overlooked & un-thanked. Lonely & unloved.
It’s not just those working on Xmas who feel lonely— How about the Elderly & Seniors Citizens? Two days before Christmas a couple years ago, there was a report about a Connecticut Hospital that had a sudden influx of ELDERLY PATIENTS who were admitting themselves to the hospital.
Multiple seniors in their 70s & 80s complaining of unidentified pains & various aches. The day before Xmas, this hospital had a sudden influx of Seniors. So they admitted them… took X-rays & MRIs—and most came up negative (no problem). So they made plans to discharge & send them home.
But many objected. Now something else hurts—and begged to stay in the hospital over Xmas. Eventually, an elderly man admitted the truth to a sympathetic nurse: “I don’t want to go home. I have no family. I’m all alone. Do you have a cure for loneliness?”
Isn’t that sad? Sometimes the Elderly feel the most forgotten at Xmas. I mean, there’s all kinds of poverty. Financial … and relational. As Mother Teresa said:
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” – Mother Teresa
And the sad reality is: There are many people in our world today who feel like the Shepherds on Xmas Eve. Some are out there working. Some are sitting in this room today!
Lonely & unloved… that’s how the Shepherds felt. FORGOTTEN by others. And FORGOTTEN by God.
Depressing message? Up to this point… perhaps! But this is what makes the Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds all the more stunning!
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. Don’t feel unloved on Xmas Eve!
Bc 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… 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 shepherd child on Xmas.
This is what the Bible calls “GRACE”—God’s Radical Acceptance at Christ’s Expense. Guys, this is Christmas! God’s Radical Acceptance at Christ’s Expense. That’s what Christmas is all about. And it really is amazing, if you think about it.
The radical grace (love & forgiveness & blessing of God is offered through Jesus to these Shepherds. I am sending you a SAVIOR—to clear your sins, to bridge the distance, and pay your bill. Religion is not the answer. God’s GRACE is a sheer gift of salvation that reconciles us to God. All you can do is receive it. As John 3:16 makes plain:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
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 Xmas, 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.
Grace is Good News, amen? Our world is starved for Good News! This year, the airwaves have been filled with fear and sadness—Mass Shootings, racial unrest, natural disasters. It’s nice to hear a real-life story that reflects God’s grace. And I heard one this week about an incredible customer in Bellevue, WA.
This month, a man walked into a diner just like he has done week after week, yet this was a visit like none other. He ate dinner, got his check and paid for his $39 bill. Only this time Dwayne Clark left a $3,000 tip. CAN YOU IMAGINE? HOW MUCH FUN WOULD THAT BE TO DO?
The staff initially thought it was a mistake until they read the note on the back of the receipt. The note reads:
“You guys do a great job! When I was 7, I washed dishes and my mom cooked in a diner like this. We were dirt poor and didn’t have money for Christmas. Hopefully, this will help all of you have a better Christmas.”
Isn’t that beautiful? At Christmas, God sends an angel to light up their life! To let them know they’re not alone. They’re loved, they’re blessed, and not forgotten.
That’s what Grace looks like in the real world. Extending the radical love & compassion of Christ to people in need. When they least expect it & can’t afford it…
Just like Jesus did for us on the Cross. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, our debt to God was paid… and we receive eternal life!
Even when we feel poor or powerless or lonely or unloved… the Good News is that the GRACE of Jesus draws us close at Christmas!
Well today, we have a special opportunity to deliver that SAME MESSAGE of JOY to a ton of people this Xmas! For 3 weeks, we’ve been learning how God illuminates the world around us, And tonight, you get to LIGHT UP SOMEONE’S LIFE! You get to be God’s Angel on Christmas Eve—each person here & hand-deliver a message of Care & Compassion to those who are “out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks.”
Those working at gas stations, convenience stores, and Security Guards. Care Givers like Police & Fire, Nurses & Doctors on call.
On your way home today: Before your family sits down to eat… before you unwrap your presents… I want you to identify ONE PERSON NEAR YOUR HOME who is “keeping watch tonight”… they’re working on Xmas Eve.
And let them know: “You Matter to God! And you matter to Us!” Here’s how we’re going to do it: We’ve got our very own Operation Angel Cookies at Hope City Church! A kindness Conspiracy is about to hit Sarasota!
I am so excited for this! Do you guys know what this is? Yeah, it’s cookies… but not just any cookies! These are bags of oversized PREMIUM CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES from our friends at Chik-Fil-A. And they are DELICIOUS!
We had the idea: What if on Xmas Eve—instead of focusing on the presents we’re going to get in the next 24 hours– the families in our church fanned out across our city and on the way home brought the Good News to all those who are working on Xmas Eve: From Policemen to Barista’s or the waitress at your favorite restaurant.
Today, we are sending you out—to hand-deliver to someone who is working today. Telling them: “You matter to God. And you matter to us. Merry Christmas from your friend’s at Hope City Church!”
Q: Who will you give THIS BAG of LOVE to near your home? The possibilities are endless!
Now listen to how this is gonna work. There is a ONE BAG PER FAMILY limit.
You’re going to be tempted to eat them—but they’re NOT for YOU!
So right now, I’m going to ask you to PICK ONE MEMBER to represent your family. Just one person—could be a kid—and then have that ONE PERSON PUT HER HAND UP to represent your family. It’s one bag per family, and our Elves need to know the ONE PERSON IN YOUR FAMILY to hand the bag to.
Ready? Let’s bring out the elves! (Rocking around the Christmas Tree MUSIC USHERS DISTRIBUTE BAGS)
Alright, does every family unit have ONE BAG? Quiet down! A bunch of noisy angels! Lemme give you some instructions!
- INSTRUCTIONS: People matter to God and to us! This Christmas, let’s tell them!
Step 1: Brainstorm someone close to home who is working tonight.
(ie: police; first responders; gas station; diner)
Step 2: Think through why you’re thankful for them.
Step 3: Give them the bag & tell them they matter to God and to you!
Share the story of what happened! #ForSarasota
On Instagram, Twitter, & FB
You’re going to be God’s Messenger. A Christmas Angel hand-picked to let people know they are not forgotten. That Christ came for them—that’s why they matter to God & to us!
At Xmas, God sent His Son to show his love for those who felt forgotten… and this Xmas Eve, He’s sending you to deliver that same Good News!
On the way in tonight you were all handed a candle. Tonight, we are going to join the tradition of lighting a candle and singing silent night together as has been done for decades on Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition that I’ve enjoyed since as far back as I can remember. But tonight, we are going to see that the Light of Life, Jesus came into the world, (Light My Candle) not so that it could be isolated in one spot, but so that light would spread throughout all the world! (Light ushers Candles) As you go out into our community tonight you are spreading the love and the light of Christ! (Ushers Light Rows Candles)
John says that, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Let’s sing together…
Merry Christmas, everybody!