Luke 2:8-20
Galatians 4:4-7

It was Christmas Eve, and, as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the bank. He walked over to the massive safe, spun the dials, swung the heavy door open, stepped inside, turned around and looked up at the words written on a 3×5 note card taped above the door and George began to remember.

Exactly one year ago on the previous Christmas Eve, he had entered this same vault and then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly the heavy door swung shut. Quickly he hurled himself at the unyielding door, but it was too late. He was trapped, and instinct told him it would remain locked until it was opened the next morning. Then reality set in. No one would come the next morning. It was Christmas.

He pounded uselessly on the door until he sank to his knees in exhaustion. More than 36 hours would pass before anyone came. Would the oxygen last? He felt his way around the floor and to his great relief found a small, circular opening and felt, faint but unmistakable, a current of fresh air.

Then he began to think. Surely he would not be trapped for the full 36 hours; somebody would miss him . . . but who? He was unmarried and lived alone. His maid didn’t really know him. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves and the expected presents. So he had made-up an excuse. He intended to sit at home with a good cigar, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself. NOBODY WOULD COME AND LET HIM OUT . . . NOBODY, NOBODY.

On the morning after Christmas, the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe, and then went on into his private office. No one saw George Mason stagger out and spend five minutes at the water cooler. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home. There he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast and returned to his office, where his employees greeted him casually. That day he met several acquaintances, even talked to his own brother. Grimly, the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from society over Christmas and no one had missed him at all. George was a forgotten man.

In this sense, George had something in common with the shepherds of Israel for shepherds were the forgotten people of their time.

Verse 18 says that “all who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished” because shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder and consequently they led very lonely, George Mason type lives. The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law, reflects this prejudice, one passage says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit. The shepherds were the marginalized, the outcasts, the outsiders, the strangers, the untouchables; they were forgotten by everyone. Everyone except God.

This passage about the shepherds is one of many pictures Luke paints of a God who eagerly welcomes those who are least expected to make it into God’s Kingdom: the downtrodden, the marginalized, the outcasts, the underdogs of society.

This theme is epitomized by the grace-filled trifecta delightfully discovered at the very heart of the book: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. The latter of which demanded received and squandered half His father’s wealth for less than noble purposes until he is penniless, homeless and starving. He knows he doesn’t deserve his father’s acceptance but has no other choice but to return home in embarrassment and disgrace and throw himself on his father’s mercy. And just when we think the father will surely greet him with ‘I told you so’ and/or ‘you made your bed, now lie in it,’ Jesus paints a grace-filled picture of a waiting father who has been keenly scanning the horizon for any sign of his wayward child. And the scripture says, in one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: “But while his boy still a long way off, his father saw him, was filled with compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (15:20).

No wonder the Gospel of Luke is known as the gospel of the least, the last and the lost; in which Jesus welcomes sinners as well as saints, outcasts as well as the religious to His family.

So it really shouldn’t surprise us that the lowly shepherds, not religious people, were given first dibs on seeing the holy child and are even the first to tell others about this wonderful news.

No wonder the angels announced that they were bringing good news of a great joy!

And not just for religious people, not just for political big-wigs, not just for rich, well-respected people, but the angels said, “for all people,” for timid people, and shy people, and lonely people, and people who feel they don’t belong, people who for any reason think they are forgotten people.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem to teach us that all human beings stand on the same level playing field when it comes to having a relationship with God. We “like sheep,” the Bible tells us, “have all gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). In this sense, we are the marginalized, the outcasts, the lonely, the forgotten. But Christmas reminds us that no matter who we are or what we’ve done we are, all of us, welcome to receive the greatest Christmas gifts anyone could possibly receive: forgiveness and grace.

For He created us not only to be in a right relationship with Him but also with one another. Paul tells us that when we accept Christ by faith we are at that point adopted into God’s family.

What a privilege God has given us to come together in His Church Family where we enjoy the privilege of accepting and forgiving and loving one another, of looking out for and caring for one another, of dreaming and visioning and planning and carrying out all kinds of ministries on behalf of Christ that will strengthen and enlarge His family, and of providing a family for those who for whatever reason feel they have no family.

That’s why I love the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch represents the least, the last and the lost, like the shepherds, he is an outcast, the Grinch is a forgotten man; well maybe not a man. He is a forgotten . . . Grinch. But at the end of the story, he discovers to his amazement and delight that he is welcomed into the whole Who family. I personally think that Dr. Seuss got the title wrong for his Christmas classic. It should have been titled How the Grinch Discovered Christmas Love.

To his great delight, this is exactly what George Mason discovered. After George was set free from the confines of the safe, he began to think about the true meaning of Christmas. Was it possible that pride had convinced him that he didn’t need anyone, that he could make life work just fine by doing it on his own?

And that wondering led to an entirely different Christmas the next year. After safely closing the safe behind him he flags a taxi that takes him to a place where he is greeted with smiles and hugs and “Merry Christmases” galore, as with his brothers and sisters in Christ, he worships the Newborn King. When worship concludes another taxi takes him to his brother’s home, where with his brother, sister-in-law and two nephews, George sits down to a wonderful meal before they exchange gifts. And George Mason thinks to himself, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’

Why? Perhaps the card has something to do with it, the card he taped inside the office safe last New Year’s Day. On the 3×5 card is written, in George’s own hand a simple poem he penned: “Jesus came to set us free and gift us with a family.”

You know you don’t have to be locked up in a safe to feel alone. I know many George Masons, people who are very lonely in life despite the fact that they are constantly surrounded by all kinds of warm bodies.

Christmas is the time to rejoice that Christ came to foster relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ and ultimately with His very own presence in our lives. So the good news of a great joy is that God is as homesick for us as we are for Him! Christmas tells us there is no reason to run away from God or to avoid, or ignore God, for no matter who we are or what we’ve done God is always, always, always calling us to come to Him through His Son, Jesus. Christmas is a time to be reminded that when we are ready, He is waiting for us.