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The scandal of Christmas

13 Dec

Imagine for a moment that you are put in charge of inviting the guests to the annual neighborhood Christmas party. As you consider the guest list, who would you include on the “Must invite” list? Who would you keep in the wings on the “May invite” list in case some of those in the “Must invite” group can’t make it? And if we are being honest, who would you place on the “Won’t invite” list? Perhaps their tacky white elephant gifts, out of control behavior at a previous get together, or general social ineptness landed them on the “do not fly” list.

If you or I were in charge of planning the invitation list for the birth of Jesus, chances are good that we would not have invited the shepherds to the party (Luke 2:1-20). That would be close to inviting an inner city gang to your child’s birthday party. During the first century in Israel, the only people lower on the social status scale were lepers. Shepherds were considered not to be trusted. Not only did their occupation leave them religiously unclean because they had to work on the Sabbath, their responsibilities kept them away from the temple for weeks at a time which prevented them from becoming clean.

And yet, the shepherds were the first group God invited to celebrate his son’s birth. That fact alone points out that God does not come to the proud and powerful. He comes to the poor and powerless. Grace is given to those who need it most.

As much as we may want to sanitize and romanticize the Christmas story, it is a rather scandalous affair. It demonstrates that God can use anyone and anything to spread the good news of the gospel. He can use a pagan king, a government census, a teenage couple, an 80-mile journey while eight months pregnant, and a group of outcast shepherds to tell the story of the savior’s birth.

According to verses 8-14, an angel appeared to shepherds who were in the field at night taking care of their sheep. While the shepherds faced predators like wolves, lions, and bears, they are understandably scared to death of this angel. And that is before the angel speaks one word.

The angel brings a three-fold message. It is a message of joy. The birth of Jesus is cause for celebration. We celebrate because God loves us and is with us. It is a message of hope. A savior has been born. Jesus saves us from our past and gives us hope for the future. It is also a message of peace. Jesus makes reconciliation possible—not only between people and God, but between people and other people.

After hearing the good news, the shepherds waste no time heading for Bethlehem to see the baby (15-20). You feel sorry for the lowest guy on the roster who probably got stuck tending the sheep. The shepherds raced each other to see the new king. After their encounter with Jesus, they cannot stop talking about what the angel said and what they saw.

The shepherd’s experience with grace transformed them from outcasts to evangelists, from spectators to first responders. Their reaction demonstrates that good news is shared best by those who need it most.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 13, 2015. It is part of a series on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

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