Dear Friends and Partners,
It’s impossible for me to walk through the Christmas season without reflecting on the roots of ANEW Place. As some of you may know, in 1982 a group of community members from local area churches had the idea of forming what was then Burlington Emergency Shelter because they believed God cared deeply about those on the fringe of our community who felt forgotten. I often tell our prospective guests how that faith still serves as a foundation for why we serve but it’s not a filter for who we serve: we believe every person matters period.
As I was recently reading the Christmas narrative from the Bible, I came across the familiar story found in Luke 2 of the shepherds being visited by a host of angels and was reminded how closely this parallels our calling at ANEW Place:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
It’s easy at first glance to miss the significance of what’s happening in this story. Every nativity scene includes a cute little angel and gentle shepherds- they’re just part of the package. We may easily embrace shepherds as key characters, but a first century reader in Israel would have found this incredulous. For the birth of the Messiah, surely God would invite kings or political influencers, priests or religious insiders, but never shepherds.
Shepherds were social outcasts. They were poor, uneducated, uncultured, and uncouth. They were rough characters in a small town on the fringe of society, so much so that their testimony was not even admissible in court. If you were with your family, walking through town, you would likely go to the other side of the street to avoid them.
Shepherds were religious outsiders. Because of the work of caring for the sheep made them ceremonially unclean, they were not allowed into the temple courts or to participate in synagogue worship. Religious leaders often considered them on the same level as prostitutes. When it came to religion, they were always on the outside looking in.
An angelic army was sent to invite a group of guys who had been labeled as outcasts and outsiders by everyone and placed them at the top of the invite list for the most important birthday in history. The shepherds had nothing to offer. They were not religiously trained or socially polished. Unlike the wise men who would arrive later, they did not have exquisite gifts. These guys lived under the stars with only the clothes on their backs, a staff to guide the sheep, and a rod for protection. They had nothing of value to bring to Jesus’ birthday except for themselves. Yet they were exactly the type of people Jesus continued to pursue throughout his life. They were the people he invited to His table and turned into the leaders of His movement. He saw their God-given potential.
Thank you for partnering shoulder to shoulder with us at ANEW Place as we continue inviting those on the fringe to our table, reminding them that they matter and there is a path forward.
Hope you each enjoy an amazing Christmas,
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