For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.
Earlier this week Eric and I attended a memorial service for the people in our community who died while experiencing homelessness. The service was held at The Journey Church in Longmont where the shelter operates for much of the year. They continue year after year to open their doors to the tired and hungry among us with nowhere else to turn.
The service was beautiful. In front across the stage were nine glass bowls of water with a floating candle in each. Corresponding with each bowl was the name of the deceased. We processed forward holding a long stemmed rose, peeling petals, placing them in the water. The mood was somber, offset by the few lively instrumental Christmas tunes accompanying our procession. The now and not-yet of Advent never more evident than at this moment.
As we settled into our seats, the microphone was passed around the room as friends and chosen family shared heartfelt words of grief and memories. I was moved by this little community that loved one another so well. I sat silent, curious and pensive, learning about these individuals who lead a far different life than I. I held no judgment, only tenderness for people who work so hard to get through the day, and even harder to get through the nights. Many who are overlooked, misunderstood, despised.
I have three kids. Depending on the season, one may struggle more than the others. And some of you have one that struggles more than the others all the time. It’s a reality. One needs support, services, encouragement far more than any of the other kids. It just is. It’s what good parents do.
And any teacher may have one or two in the classroom that requires far more effort and attention than the rest of the class. For reasons beyond the child’s control there are needs that demand special care. It just is. It’s what good teachers do.
Here we have in our community a population many of us don’t know what to do with. If you’re like me, it’s not that you don’t see or notice them, it’s just there’s so little any of us can do. We turn away not for lack of caring but because of impotence, and maybe a modicum of shame.
As I sat there, listening to the heartfelt words, seeking to understand the emotion, I realized these overlooked and despised, misunderstood people hold a special place in the heart of God. God knows them, sees them, loves them with a tenderness reserved for those who know suffering.
I wept in my seat, now understanding the way we are all loved. We are all fully known, seen, and held. We are all favored. And some of us get special treatment because we need it.
This is the hope we hold during Advent. The last among us are first. Those smelly, cast-aside- from-society shepherds were chosen because God was rooting for them. God knew they would be the first to recognize the Christ in their midst.
The least among us are adored, given front seat to the birth of Immanuel, God with us.
All who suffer are adored, cherished, favored. The God of all Creation roots for us. This is the beauty of God’s economy – a powerless infant changed the course of human history, upon whom the Law and the Prophets would pivot.
This is how we are seen.