- Pastor Mark Carlson
Born in Bethlehem
“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
I was born in Quincy, Massachusetts. After a short stay in the hospital, my parents took me home to the parsonage my parents were living in while my dad was serving as the pastor of a Covenant Church in Quincy. People came from nearby and across town to visit my parents, brother, and of course me - the temporary infant celebrity. Some, like my grandmother, traveled all the way from California to make my acquaintance.
This past summer while road tripping all the way to New England, I had the opportunity to share the location of my birth with Anna and our kids. While in Quincy, I think they were more impressed visiting the birthplace of John Adams and the original Dunkin Donuts than they were driving by Quincy Med Center or the parsonage. Yet it was significant for me to have them know and see this part of my story.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It likely wasn’t what Mary and Joseph imagined Jesus’ birth would be like, but they dutifully left Nazareth for Bethlehem to participate in the census. They found the best accommodations available, a room where farm animals were kept, and he was laid in their feeding trough. Away from home and in less than ideal circumstances, they still had visitors. People who came to witness the Savior that was born to them and the whole world.
We don’t know for certain if neighbors, grandmas, or the Baby Welcoming Committee from the local synagogue visited Jesus. We do know that lowly shepherds did. They were invited not by a Facebook event invitation, but by a huge choir of heaven-sent angels. For centuries Christians have been captivated by the circumstances leading up to Jesus’ birth, the events that surrounded it, and people that were involved in it.
God chose a particular time and a particular place for Immanuel to enter in our world. Location was significant. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem, and in doing so fulfilled Micah’s prophecy. The angels used heavenly GPS to hover over a particular place in the sky outside of Bethlehem to make their pronouncement. The shepherds left their sheep in the countryside so they could go into Bethlehem and be witnesses to the infant Savior. All to be participants in an event that would change the world.
Each Advent, we are invited back to Bethlehem. Back to that stable. Back to that manger, to be reminded of the Good News of great joy for all of us wrapped in the innocent and humble form of a baby. A baby that would live, heal, teach, love, suffer, die and rise for you. For me. For all of us!
Nativity sets, easily one of the most recognizable symbols of the Christmas season, remind us of all those people who were brought together by Jesus’ birth. Characters that are included not because of their perfection, but because of their faithfulness. Not because of their societal value, but because they were valued by God. During Advent, our sermon series will focus on a variety of pairings from our nativity scenes and Biblical birth story who were drawn to Bethlehem, and to Jesus, for this historic event.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem and as we engage and embody this story of Good News, Jesus is born in us as well through the incarnation of Christ. This is at the heart of the Christmas message, that we would be changed not just by what God did in Bethlehem but also by how God is changing us as Christ lives in us. Jesus is born in you! Thank you, Mac Cov, for being a home and a family of faith for us for all these years, and for bearing great witness of what it means to have Jesus born in you.