Good news for all people

December 10th, 2023

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11

Let me take you to church. 

We arrive at the chemical dependency unit of the inpatient rehabilitation facility. After a prayer and team selfie, we enter, sign in, and go through the screening process.

Waiting on the other side of the glass wall is 40ish men and women who currently call this place home. They’ve been patiently anticipating our arrival (some days are long and there’s not much to do inside).

Some of the assembled congregants were court ordered here, others checked into the detox voluntarily. The gathering is not mandatory but almost all the residents come every week.

“Welcome to Higher Power Hour! My name is _______, I’m a recovering alcoholic and my higher power is Jesus!” the leader proclaims. “We know everyone who comes here is not Christian, that’s okay, no matter what spiritual path you are following, or even if you’re not really sure about this whole spirituality thing, you are welcome here, and you are loved.”

We go around the room and everyone introduces themselves, “Hi I’m _____ an addict, and my higher power is _____.” “Hello, alcoholic _____ and my higher power is______.” Increasingly over the past year more people fill in that last blank with… Jesus. One of our team leaders kicks off a conversation with a Jesus story. This is a short, three-to-five minute impactful telling of something Jesus said or did, placed in conversation with one of the 12 step principles. The community then shares reflections on the lead, and how it gives meaning to the joys and struggles of their week. 

Concluding the service, the song leader strums a couple cords, “Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me…” as soon as her lone voice pierces the air, a choir of voices joins her. The residents know every word. You have not really sung “Reckless Love,” until you’ve sung it together in a rehab with people who are desperately hungry for a relationship with God. People in whom our lives literally depend on that connection with a God who “chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.”

Shepherd Malpractice

In Painting with Ashes, I suggested that we need more ministers and congregations that take up the “shepherd malpractice” of Jesus. Those who will leave 99 perfectly healthy and obedient sheep to the dangers of the wild to chase after a single stray (Luke 15: 4). According to the Shepherd Union of Jesus’s day, no good shepherd would do that, that was in fact shepherd malpractice. And yet Jesus uses this story to illustrate the central essence and character of a God who is reckless love. 

Jesus and shepherds have a long history. Interestingly, the Christmas story starts with an angelic visitor appearing to “shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Of course, they start freaking out, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 italics mine).

Shepherds were not necessarily the elite of their time. They wouldn’t be considered cultural influencers by today’s standards. So, it’s interesting that an angel would waste time there. What kind of “messiah” will this be? What kind of “good news” will he bring? Who will this news be for?


“Good news for all people.” Somehow this is at the heart of the message of Christmas. And that good news starts with unexpected people in unexpected places. It starts on the edge, with the nobodies and the throw aways of society.

Matthew further enlightens the content of the good news, it’s not just a message to be shared, it’s a person… “And they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) (Matthew 1:23). 

God with us. God with all of us. That is the heart of the good news.

Most churches decline and even die because the “us” of their “God with us” is too small. I believe Fresh Expressions like Higher Power Hour catalyze renewal in existing congregations because they expand the imagination of “withness” and the “us-ness.”

Immanuel. This is the central affirmation that we ponder and proclaim throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. What does it mean to say God is “with” us and not simply above us, before us, or beyond us? Who is this “us” that we speak of after all?

The Word Made Flesh

When we talk about this God who is with us, we are not just talking about any run-of-the-mill god. We are not talking about the gods we make of our stuff or ourselves. We are talking about a very real God, who comes to us in a very particular way, in a very precise moment in human history, with a very specific name: Jesus. Ultimately, a baby born in a stable that smelled like animal feces and afterbirth is the purest revelation of God that ever was.

This God demonstrates withness by coming to us in human flesh, and in the humblest of circumstances. Jesus isn’t born in a basinet in Herod the Great’s manmade monstrosity, the Herodium, or in Caesar Augustus’ palace, but in the shadowy corner of the empire in a little town called Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” God comes to us in a very relational and vulnerable way, utterly dependent on the innate goodness of humanity.

The angel comes not to the religious elites or the masters of conquest, but to shepherds.  

I’m convinced some of the greatest atrocities in human history have been committed with a misunderstanding of one tiny two-letter word… “us.”

“God with us!” has been the battle cry of terrorists flying passenger-loaded planes into buildings, the foundation of the death-dealing Doctrine of Discovery, the supporting idea of racial caste systems, the justification for pillaging the earth through extraction and commoditization, and the marching orders for millions of Christians killing each other in the name of Jesus in holy wars.

A misunderstanding of the “withness” and “us-ness” of God is also the death knell of every closed church. 

The “All” Part

If this good news for all people gets communicated to shepherds, we must take seriously that all means all.

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase that has become a kind of mantra for full inclusion in the church. But in the heart of the Christmas story, we discover it’s not a new idea at all. It is literally the essence of “good news for all people.” It is the central epiphany of our faith, or as Paul reminds us even the gentiles have become fellow heirs in Christ (Ephesians 3:6). This is what the prophets were pointing out hundreds of years before Jesus arrived. That is the mystery once hidden now revealed. This is what the Medo-Persian Magi knew as they traveled a great distance to lay their treasures at the feet of Jesus. 

The good news is not just for some people. It’s for all people. 

Angels herald this message. But they begin by sharing it with those outside the “inner circle” of the existing religious community. Even if the big bold letters on our church signs read “all are welcome,” people today aren’t buying it. We will need to follow Jesus’s lead in the incarnation, making word flesh, going out into our neighborhoods and networks, turning strangers into friends, sharing the good news that God loves all people, and that all means all. We will need to plant little new Christian communities in every nook and cranny of everyday life.

This is why communities like Higher Power Hour are so important. God often starts with those outsiders who we might be unintentionally excluding. The beginning point is withness, being with one another in authentic relationships. The usness of our withness is all inclusive. It includes everyone in the circle, no matter who their stated higher power might be. We slowly build relationships with strangers in our everyday lives and create communities of healing where “good news” is actually “breaking news.” 

I wish we would stop putting so much time into Christmas Eve services and dedicate a portion of that energy into being the flesh and blood message of Christmas to friends, co-workers, and neighbors. I dream of a church that starts where Jesus started. Not in pristine temples where candlelight flickers in the stained glass. But rather with the unsheltered ones shivering in sleeping bags just outside those hallowed walls.

Jesus, the disinherited one, born to refuge parents in utter obscurity, who’s coming was announced by shepherds in the fields and gentile Magi who came from afar. Perhaps if we started there, the world would take seriously the heartbeat of our message again. That Jesus is “good news for all people.” 

comments powered by Disqus