Monday, November 20, 2017

Newspaper COlumn for December 1

Is There a Place this Year?
Let’s start with a story (I like stories):
The wind gusted, sending the fresh snow swirling around the lamp post. Miriam shivered, pulling the thin coat tighter around her chest. “Gonna be a cold one tonight,” she muttered, squinting through the darkness.

A little further down the block was the big old church. Miriam remembered going there as a child, remembered the beautiful stained glass windows. Suddenly a friendly voice boomed in her ear. “Merry Christmas! Please come and join us for worship!”

Miriam looked around, wondering who the cheerful man was talking to. Surely it couldn’t be her. Christmas Eve was a special service, someone wearing an old coat and wrapped in a hand-me-down blanket didn’t fit in with the fancy dresses and bright lights. But there was nobody else around. “Ar-are you talking to m-m-me?” she asked.

“Of course my dear,” the greeter replied. “Come in and warm up at least.” Miriam could hardly believe her ears; certainly a chance to get out of the wind was welcome. Gratefully she made her way up the old stone stairs and snuck into a pew way at the back of the sanctuary, just as the opening notes of the first hymn were being played.

As she listened to the familiar old carols Miriam couldn’t help remembering the Christmases of her childhood. Things were so much happier, so much simpler then. “What had gone wrong?” she muttered to herself. Then the pageant started. Watching Mary and Joseph get turned away from the inn Miriam felt her heart reach out to them. She knew what it meant to have nowhere to go.

After the service, Miriam started to wrap herself in the blanket again and sneak out without being seen. No luck. The greeter was right there beside her again. “Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked. Miriam said nothing, just looked away.

Finally she looked up, “I don’t know, there was no place at the shelter.”

“Well that will never do” the young man said. He paused for a moment then a smile came back to his face. “Please come to my parent’s house with me,” he said. The story we just heard reminds us that there should always be a place somewhere.

It might have been a trick of the light and wind. But at that moment Miriam was sure that the greeter’s face was shining, just like the angel in the window behind her. And somewhere she heard voices singing “Hallelujah!”…

We lose it in the lights and the carols. We focus on the baby in the manger or the angels on the hillside, or on the man this baby will become, and we lose it. We lose sight of the fact that Christmas comes to the least and lowest. In the New Revised Standard Version of Luke’s Christmas story we are told that Jesus is laid in the manger because there was no place for them in the inn. Not just the inn was full but there was no place, they did not belong. Then then angels appear to shepherds, dirty smelly shepherds who also did not belong in polite society (at least not without a bath). Where was the place for them?

Miriam was sure she didn’t belong either. But she was told otherwise, she was invited in.

Christmas is not about trees and lights and presents and carols. Christmas is about God joining in with our life. And Luke tells us that God chooses to do that with people who don’t belong, with people who don’t have a place, with those on the outskirts of their world. Christmas reminds us that in God’s eyes all have a place, in fact that those at the bottom have a special place in God’s eyes.

Over 40 years ago Miriam Therese Winter (of the Medical Mission Sisters) wrote these lyrics:
On a dark day deep in December, grinding the poverty, grey was the morn.
Only the clean of heart still can remember the day and the moment when Jesus was born.
On a dark day deep in the present, grinding the loneliness and plight of the poor.
Only the clean of heart dare to remember, the poor were His Gospel and their hope is sure

From Mary’s song of revolution, to the birth of Jesus and on through the preaching and teaching of Jesus it is obvious that God’s plan is for there to be a place for all – even (or perhaps especially) if established understandings and hierarchies have to be destroyed first. We are still waiting for it to happen. Maybe this Christmas it will start.

If Christmas happened in Grande Prairie in 2017 who would fill the parts? Is there a place for everybody in our Christmas celebrations? In our life as a community?

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