It has been an eventful time since Sherry and I arrived in North Andover in early September. We have celebrated and mourned together, shared our joys and concerns, prepared for both a pastor’s installation service and five baptisms on the first Sunday of Advent to ring out the month of November. Now the Advent season is upon us once again and well underway. Soon we will be focusing on preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and driving ourselves to distraction with every other thing we do during the Christmas season, both religious and secular. Before we get there, let’s pause and take a moment to really consider what happened that night so long ago in Bethlehem. The world changed. Human history changed forever. God came into the world as a tiny, vulnerable baby, born into a good, honest, hardworking, faithful family at the low end of the social spectrum. Jesus was born into a family living in an out of the way place along a trade route, a small town where everybody knew everybody else’s business. It was a place near enough to a large city for Jesus to become familiar with people from out of town, along a trade route that would introduce him to interesting people from far and wide. This was a town so small, when Phillip told Nathanael they had found the person foretold by Moses and the Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael quipped, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus changed Nathanael’s mind … and has been changing minds ever since.
Jesus changed the world. He had some wild ideas back in the day, following the path his cousin John the Baptizer had blazed with fiery calls to repent as one greater than he was soon to come. Jesus also called people to repent, change their lives entirely, aligning their ways of thinking and working in the world with God’s.
Jesus would challenge everyone to follow the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving neighbors, neighbors who included everyone, even people you didn’t like very much, even people who society considered social outcasts.
It started that first night, the night Jesus was born. The first people to hear the news of Jesus’ arrival were shepherds, outcasts from society considered too unclean by the nature of their work to mingle with polite society. Yet, it was the shepherds who heard: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” It was the best news, delivered to people most gladly overlooked … unless they wanted wool or lamb chops … and it was these shepherds who were the first to visit a startled Mary and Joseph, excitedly reporting to the new father and mother exactly what had happened to them out in the field. Other newcomers would arrive later, Gentiles, scholars from the lands to the East, seeking a new king foretold, a king the people of Israel had heard would come, but whose scholars found this shocking news, as did Israel’s King Herod.
So shocking would be the changes Jesus ushered in that Israel’s movers and shakers would first resist the change and then refuse it outright. We’ll leave their eventual response for Easter. Jesus changed history, calling humanity to live in new ways for a new and incoming kingdom. We are still grappling with that change today. We are living in a rapidly changing society, in rapidly changing neighborhoods that have been badly shaken by the COVID pandemic. Jesus calls us to reach out to those in society who are achingly lonely, who are outcasts, who are widows, orphans, poor, hungry, prisoners and from strange lands far away. We of First-Calvary Baptist Church are called to embrace them all as Jesus embraced them.
God bless us, every one.