Dec 24, 2016 "God Loves the Lowly Shepherd"
Below is the message for The Nativity of Our Lord celebrated at Good Shepherd Christmas Eve
At the end are the prayers

This time of year I see these TV commercials for gifts we’re encouraged to want.
But so often, they are things that are really beyond my reach.
Like cars that are beyond my budget,… 
tech instruments that are beyond my ability to understand,…
and stylish items 'in vogue' that are beyond my simple lifestyle.
I sometimes wonder;… 
‘What if you’re a poor and watching all this opulence advertised,…
an older person not familiar with the strange computer jargon,…
or a simple person not oriented to the styles of the pop culture-
Do you get the feeling sometimes that so much out there is just beyond you?'
And not just material things,…but other things like happiness, peace and contentment in our souls,….and even love can be beyond our reach of attainment.

But at Christmas, Jesus comes as a weak and helpless little baby relegated to a dirty manger,….to prove that the gift that he is, is not beyond the reach of anybody, no matter what their station in life.
That through him, God brings us the simple gift of His love.

What’s that love look or feel like?
The the gift of an assurance that God is by our side all of the time.
The gift of knowing God helps us in our tough times and guides us when we have to make hard choices.
The gift of knowing that God will forgive us when we do wrong or when we make bad choices.
And last but not least,….Jesus brings the gift that says when our days here on earth have ended, He will take us to a better place.

But the dramatically radical thing about this (or these) gifts is this - 
they are available to anyone and everyone!
‘In Jesus Christ, the gifts aren’t beyond the reach of anyone
The Christmas story is just that short, sweet and simple.

Of course, once Jesus grows up,  we see this as he goes about in his ministry proving this fact.
In fact he emphasize that by caring for the least in society.
When he touches and heals the lepers,…..
When he cures the man possessed by demons,….
When he goes out to the hated Samaritans and Gentiles,…..
When he intercedes for and forgives the prostitute,….
When he raises Lazarus from the dead.
By going to care for the outcasts,…the powerless,…and the forsaken,….
Jesus shows that no one is beyond God’s love.

But even before Jesus lifts a hand to help anyone,…the Christmas birth story gives us evidence that God’s love reaches those pushed furthest out of society.
It has to do with the shepherds.
They may look cute (and even cherubic sometimes) in creche scenes and on Christmas cards, but in real life back then they were the among the lowest of all.
They were persons whom the ‘good and righteous’ people wouldn’t go near.
They were, like the lepers and the mentally ill and the morally corrupt,…outcasts believed to be beyond God’s grace.

And yet,….in the birth story we hear that’s who God send his angel to tell the news about Jesus’ birth.
He doesn't send word to those in power, like kings or princes.
He doesn't send a message to the “holy” religious authorities.
No!   He sends the angel to the lowly shepherds out in the fields.
And the angel of God tells them that the gift “to you is born this day” and is for all the people”!
God is telling the world that no persons,…even those we may think are the least and lowest,….are beyond God’s grace.
That the gift of Jesus Christ is not just for those who are wealthy,…. or honored by cultural standards,…or even the deserving.
They are for all to unwrap and embrace and keep forever.

And then,…as if that is not radical enough,…he basically invites the lowly, dirty, shepherds over to see the gift.
This will be sign for you - you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.
God invites them to Bethlehem to come and see the gift and visit his Son.
How many of us would invite the lowest of society for a visit on Christmas night?

But,….yeah,…God did just that!
The last and the least….were the first to know.
And so the standards and rules about how people thought God works were turned on their heads or thrown out the window!

Now, one last thing……
we might think of lowly as a homeless person on the street or others down on the social, economic, or wellness spectrum.
But we all know that sometimes the least and lowest can also mean you and me.
Circumstances in life, or others around us, can make us feel like we are one of the least or lowest.
When we can feel like we’re knocked off our feet and brought down financially,…health-wise,…or in worry and lack of self-esteem.
In those times,…its good to remember that this gift of God’s love and care and presence is most accessible for all of us.
Because God’s love for you is more than just a luxury beyond your reach because of where you are or what you’ve done.

So know that God loves the sight of you,… whether you’re overweight or the 98lb. weakling.
Know God loves to listen to you whether you speak several languages fluently,….or barely manage one correctly.
Know God loves to help you rise back up when events or bad luck have pushed you down for the count.
Know God loves to forgive you when you said or did the wrong or illegal thing,…or when you neglected to do the right thing.
Know God loves you like a partner whether you’re married, single, or divorced.
Know God loves you whether you’re gay or straight,…a liberal or a conservative,….Protestant or Catholic,… a Muslim, a Jew,…or even an atheist.

Whenever we are feeling that someone else is so low and despicable that they don’t deserve any kind of grace,…..
or when we are feeling as lonely and low and among the least of society like the ostracized shepherds,…. 
we need to recall that God loves us all.
And also recall that the gift giver,….Jesus himself,…was made to feel like the least and lowest by many.
Yet, even as he was humiliated and executed on a cross,….he was not beyond God’s love and power to ultimately save him.
When life or your world makes you feel low or you begin to feel like no one is concerned or that nobody can help,…
do not lose hope, but trust that this gift of God’s love that you have been given is not beyond you.
As the angel said; ’Jesus is the gift for you;…for everyone!

Amen.

Prayers for Christmas Eve.
Send the gift of your love to our nation and to all the nations and provide all leaders with a desire to follow in your righteous ways.    
As we pray for peace on earth, we long for nations to cease being at war and for all people to be protected from violence from outside their country as well as within and from outside their homes as well as within.
Lord, in your mercy,….

Send the gift of your love to the Church of Jesus Christ,….here in this place and all over the world.   
Help direct and guide clergy to bring the message of your promised gift to a world that is hurting and torn apart by selfishness, hatred and violence.    
Be with all our brothers and sisters in other faiths and help us to work together to move all hearts to do your will.
Lord, in your mercy….

Send the gift of your love, Lord to all those this evening who are feeling lowly or the least among society or in their lives.  
Help them to see and know and embrace your power and presence.   Lift them up by your Spirit from their lowliness to places where they know they are valued by you and others.    
Be especially with all who struggle with their faith and send us, as like the shepherds, to spread the message of your love and care for them.  
Lord, in your mercy….

Send the gift of your love to all who are want for food, clean water or air, and a decent place to live and good medical care.  
Move us to be your angels who help to provide those things to the least of society.  
And be with all those who are ailing physically, mentally, and emotionally and help them to be lifted up to wellness
Lord in your mercy,….

Finally Lord, we lift up to your love all those on our prayer list along with the people we now name to you silently in our hearts,……