A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to preach this at Oasis Community Church. I wanted to share it with the Stumbling Toward Grace readers. Thank you for another opportunity.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m in marketing at PATH Intl., which is the organization overseeing therapeutic horsemanship. Marketing for this kind of an organization can seem easy. After all, you mention “special needs” and people go “awwww.” You mention horses and people go “awwww.” So pretty easy job as far as PR goes. The problem is, not a lot of people know who we are, so we do marketing to make our organization better known. We want to get our message to the largest number of people possible, to the largest number of people who actually care what we do, and do it all for the least amount of money. So there’s always a weighing of the pros and cons of any marketing strategy. Yes, an ad in People Magazine reaches a great many people. However, not necessarily the people who care anything about our organization. So maybe Horse and Rider would be better for our audience and it reaches a great many people. However, it’s too expensive for our nonprofit organization. Just Horses is a small publication that only reaches the horse people in Idaho. But the ad would be cheap. Is it worth it though for something that reaches that few people?
I can almost hear the marketing meeting that God had with the angels before the birth of Jesus.
God says, “It’s time to announce the birth of My Son.”
Angel #1 says, “We need to announce it to as many people as possible! What’s the biggest city on earth?”
Angel #2 says, “That would be Rome. World power.”
Angel #1 says, “Not only that, but their communication system is second to none. Roads to all the major cities and they control the trade routes of the seas.”
Angel #2 says, “We could do far worse. With announcing it at Rome, we can be well assured that the whole world will hear of the birth of this magnificent Son.”
But God smiles and says, “I’m thinking Bethlehem.”
Angel #1 says, “Bethlehem? But it’s so tiny, so insignificant. It won’t make much of a splash.”
Angel #2 says, “Lord, that’s just crazy!”
Angel #1 says, “That’s okay. We’re in PR. We can still spin this. Who are the parents?”
Angel #2 says, “A king would be good. Maybe just passing through Bethlehem.”
God smiles again. “No. Just a simple carpenter and his young wife. They’re pretty poor. Oh, but there will be kings.”
Angel #1 says, “Well, thank You for that! Now, we can publicize the royal family of these kings. What is their lineage? Does it come down from Kings David and Solomon?”
God says, “Not quite. They’re not Jewish. They’re Gentiles. From the East. Astrologers.”
Angel #2 says, “Wow, that’s going to be a tough one to pull off, God. I mean, how are we supposed to announce it to the whole world? Can we at least still sing your praises from the heavens?”
And God smiles even bigger. “Oh yes,” he says. “And wait until you see who I want you to sing for.”
Who do the Heavenly Host sing for? That’s right. Not the kings. Not the worldly powers. Not the rich people. Not the priests or the teachers of the Law. The King of the Universe, the Holy Anointed One, the Messiah, God’s own Son is heralded by the Heavenly Host to a bunch of shepherds.
The first part of Michael Card’s song “God’s Own Fool” expresses it perfectly:
Seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to man
He must have seemed out of His mind.
We serve an unlikely God, who delights in unlikeliness. We see that unlikeliness with the shepherds. How unlikely was it for God to use the shepherds?
Today, we tend to think positively of shepherds because Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd. We recite the 23rd Psalm at times of distress in order to comfort ourselves and others. We get warm and fuzzy feelings when we think of sheep, or especially lambs.
But the truth is, sheep are dirty. Their wool picks up loose sticks and leaves and dirt. They’re not clean creatures. They won’t clean themselves the way a cat will.
Because of that, shepherds weren’t admired in biblical times. They are called loathsome to the Egyptians in Genesis 46:34, and being a shepherd was considered punishment. Numbers 14:33 says, “And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.”
“The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people.” (Barclay, p. 17)
And yet, it is to these loathsome, unclean people that the angels announce the birth of the Messiah.
Have you ever had times where you felt it was unlikely that God would use you for anything? Maybe because of sin in your life, maybe because you see yourself as insignificant. We know enough theology to be able to parrot the words we hear so often, that God loves all of us and saves us in spite of our sin and our uncleanliness. But sometimes I think we believe that we’re just barely scraping by, that we’re getting into heaven by the skin of our teeth. That God is scouring over the record of our lives, looking for the one thing that will allow Him to send us on our way to Hell. And instead of being welcomed into Heaven with all the saints, He peers at us over the rim of His glasses and disapprovingly says, “Well, you found the loophole that says I should let you in, so fine. Go stand over there in the corner, but don’t you dare think of eating any of the cookies.” And so we hang our head low and scuttle off to the corner, hoping no one sees us and questions our presence in this place of shining whiteness, us with our dirty fingernails and snot-crusted nostrils. And sure, we got in because of that loophole, but there’s no way in Heaven or in Hell that God can use us. He saves that for pure people, for the missionaries and the ministers. Not for us.
If you believe that you are an unlikely person to be used by Him, that’s great! Because the truth is, we have been set apart by an unlikely God. He is the God who delights in using prostitutes and murderers. His story is told by common people, and He is served by anyone who loves Him. He uses everyone He has saved.
So take a look at yourself. Where is God using you? Where is He saying, “YOU are the perfect one to do this particular task”? No matter what the PR people say. The chorus of Michael Card’s song calls us to follow this Madman.
So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well.
Come be a fool as well. We serve an unlikely God. Be unlikely. Be what no one suspects. Love the people God brings in your path, even if other people raise their eyebrows and wag their fingers. Be unlikely.