There are three messages that my parents gave to me during the sixteen years that I lived with them:
1. I was ugly.
2. I was unloved.
3. I was unwanted.
My parents managed to communicate those messages to me in every area of my life. They had, and still have, a profound impact on me. Unfortunately those messages have a way of forcing themselves back into my consciousness from time to time and can still wreak havoc with my heart and mind.
I would be lying if I said that I haven't been struggling with them lately.
Some of you will remember that this year has been a very difficult one for my family and I. Family struggles, job stress, and unemployment have taken a heavy toll on us. Each passing day without a paycheck or even interest from prospective employers creates more and more stress and makes the messages from the past even harder to wrestle with and to subdue.
To be brief, I am lonely, hurting, and struggling to hold on to the belief that God loves me.
Some of you are shocked that a minister would make such an admission. Others are uncomfortable with it. But the truth is that I have spoken the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. The people of God can and do struggle with despair and depression, and the sooner we can learn to talk about it honestly with each other the better.
But that's not what I want to talk about.
The gospel of Luke tells us that there were shepherds in the fields on the night of Jesus' birth. Scholars and theologians (of which I am neither) tell us that those shepherds were not at the top of anyone's social ladder. Shepherds were ceremonially unclean, unable to enter the Temple because of their association with unclean things. Shepherds were considered untrustworthy; their testimony not admitted in courts. No one wanted there daughters to marry shepherds because they were considered dishonest and immoral.
Not exactly the picture we are familiar with in our church Christmas pageants.
But the shepherds are precisely where I find my source of hope during this very difficult Christmas season. If God would dare to present the good news to a group of unworthy, unlovely, unwanted shepherds then he must believe that even someone as unworthy, unlovely and unwanted as me is worthy of the good news as well.
I am sitting in the lobby of a McDonald's as I write this and I am surrounded by many types of people, people of whom I am sure there are some who are hurting as I am and others who would consider themselves unworthy of the love of God.
The church has sanitized the story of the Nativity. So very few of the mangers on display show the mud and straw, the dirt of a stable. I have never seen shepherds dressed in dirty robes, covered in the dirt of the Judean hillsides and the fatigue written on their faces. Mary and Joseph are always calm and peaceful...never showing the signs of stress and exhaustion that are the natural byproducts of the birth of a child.
When did the birth of Christ become a Sunday School lesson and not the reality of Emmanuel, God with us?
The truth is that the birth of Jesus was witnessed by shepherds who were considered to be second-class citizens. Those second-class citizens were the first bearers of that good news. Yet today it seems that the second class among us are the very ones who are passed over in the telling of the good news.
I want those of you who might read this, those who are struggling with a hard life filled with poor choices and disadvantages that the good news is for you too. You see, it was only after I discovered the good news; that Jesus Christ loved me and died for me that I was able to find the ability to overcome those messages that were planted so deeply in my psyche.
I want you to know that you're not ugly.....God sees you as His beautiful child.
You are not unloved...God loves you enough that He sent His Son to restore you.
You are not unwanted....God has prepared a place for all His children.
If God could love me....then I know He loves you.
Christmas is the ultimate expression of that love. I hope that someone will share that love with you this season.