By Scott Carr,
Christmas. Is there a day filled with more nostalgia? We all have those rituals we still perform that remind us of when we were young and wide-eyed. We sing the same songs, no matter what genre we prefer. Some of our favorite movies and sweets make their annual appearance. And we retell an old story about a baby born in a manger. For a short time, we are back in the past, living in a different time, a different place. Sometimes it takes us so far back and the story we tell feel so ancient, it is easy to miss just how contemporary Christmas is. The story of a young, Jewish family wandering through the first century Roman empire can actually be very 21st century, very American, even very Philadelphian.
Until I began working with Liberti’s Emmanuel Ministry, there was one famous line in the Nativity story that I quickly glanced over: “for there was no room in the inn.” It always registered as a mere plot device, driving the reader into the iconic stable that make this birth scene so unique. But after spending time with the homeless community of Philadelphia, I wonder if that line is the point of the story.
Here is God being born into the world as a human being, and where does he have to go? There was no room for him in the inn. No one in Bethlehem has space for God to be born and live his first hours on this earth. Instead, his parents find their only shelter in a stable. It kept them out of the weather, but there was little to eat, the stench nearly unbearable, and all of their earthly belongings fit into a small, cramped room they shared with the animals. God is born and there is no where for him to go except this small inconvenient shelter.
At Christmas time, it is so easy to mystically focus on the mystery of God being born or the promise of peace on earth that we forget, peace on earth comes through a little baby with no where to go. Christmas is such a mystery because it is a story of homelessness, a story of God having no place to lay his head. He has no home so that we might find our deepest desires fulfilled in him.
As we tell the story of God’s birth into a small stable, who ought we to tell it to? The story is for those with no where else to go, for those who cannot find room in the inn. A church that worships a God born into a stable gets to be a stable for others, a place where those with no where else to go can come into the presence of God and know that before his throne, his empty tomb, his cross, his manger, they are accepted. That is our vision at Emmanuel, to provide a shelter and serve a meal with those currently experiencing homelessness in our community. As you make your plans to celebrate the birth of our Lord, perhaps the best way to celebrate it is to share his love to those he identified with in his birth. Consider joining us in sharing his love at our Christmas Eve Lunch.