Summary: A Christmas Sermon
"The Gift of Love"
One morning, when I was staying at my sister's house near Cincinnati, Ohio I heard strange noises outside.
So, I opened up the door and looked out.
It was garbage day, and overflowing trash cans and recycle bins were lined up and down the street in front of opulent, multi-million dollar mansions.
The noises were coming from several men who appeared to be homeless.
They were searching through the garbage cans of the rich, pulling out bottles and cans that they could take and get a few cents for.
As I watched this sight, I wondered to myself: "How do these men feel about themselves, having to dig through other people's garbage?
Do they feel as though they are less than human?
Do they feel invisible?
Do they feel kind of like garbage themselves?
What happened to them along the way to bring them to this point?"
They were clearly Americans.
They were born in the land of plenty; the place where, as most of us are told when we are children: "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up."
How did it come to be that they would be digging through the garbage cans of the filthy rich on a bright Friday morning in October?
And what kind of self-esteem do they have?
How do they feel about themselves?
And who made them feel this way?
Have you ever sat at a table or in a meeting and felt as if every idea or bit of input you have is just brushed away or ignored?
Or perhaps, every time you start to "tell your story" you are interrupted.
No one is listening.
It can make you feel small.
Have you ever seen people roll their eyes when you talk or nudge the person sitting next to them and make some snide remark?
How does that feel?
Have you ever felt as if people don't take you seriously?
Have you ever felt like the outsider, the rejected, the one who doesn't quite measure up to those who seem to have made it into "the in crowd"?
If so, you are not alone.
On the night that God came into the world in human form, there was no room for Him nor His parents in the opulent homes of the rich.
Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and while they were there "the time came for Mary to have her baby."
There was no place for them, so they stayed in the animal stalls that night.
And when Jesus was born, Mary "wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger" which is a feeding trough for animals.
So, God came into this world as an "outsider;" a homeless child.
He had no power, no prestige.
In Philippians Chapter 2 we are told that Jesus Christ, "Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself...
...he humbled himself..."
Why do you suppose that is?
Do you suppose God did this in order to let us know that when we feel less than human, when we find ourselves eating the leftovers from a rich person's table or garbage can, when we are cut-off or unheard during a conversation, when we are "left out"--we are not alone?
Is that love or what?
In our Gospel lesson we are told that when Jesus was born, "Nearby shepherds were living in the fields..."
One thing to remember about these shepherds is that they didn't own the sheep.
They were the hired hands.
The owners of the sheep were in their homes, asleep, along with their wives and children.
The shepherds lived in the fields.
In other words, the shepherds were homeless.
In Jesus' day, they were the poorest of the poor.
They owned nothing.
They couldn't get a decent paying daytime job, and most often, they had no family.
And why was that?
Well, think about it.
One of these shepherds might have had a limp in his left leg and no left arm.
Another of these shepherds might have been an old man, nearly blind, who had been around sheep all his life.
Another of these shepherds may have been a 16-year-old boy who was physically or mentally challenged, but was able to put a stick on the fire or hum a song between 2 and 3 in the morning.
These nighttime hired hands, minimum-salary shepherds, were considered, in that day and time, to be at the bottom of the social ladder.
No one would have taken them seriously.
If they had showed up at a synagogue-- the modern equivalent of a church in those days--in a wealthy or middle class part of town, they may have been shoo-d away or given a piece of bread and told to "hit the road."