At the very heart of the Christmas story is the reality of displaced people who have no shelter. Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem but can find no place to stay. What this meant is that Joseph, even though he was a hometown boy, evidently didn't have any family or friends left that could take him in for a night or two. He and Mary were strangers in a once familiar land.
When we look upon someone who is homeless we are seeing persons who, like Joseph and Mary, have become strangers in a once familiar land. At one time the homeless were kids who lived on our block, went with us to school, played on our sports team. At one time the homeless were fellow employees, perhaps even part of the band of brothers fighting in Iraq. At one time the homeless were hometown citizens.
I grant that the complexities of homelessness are immense. Whatever solutions we propose falter into the futility of "never enough." Indeed, I often think of the homeless as economic refugees of global capitalism, casualities in a global war on the poor. But that definition only covers a portion of a far more complex dynamic.
The truth is that I really don't have solutions to homelessness in general. But I do have a proposal for faith communities concerning specific persons who are homeless. Given that at the heart of most all religious expression is an affirmation that underneath the traumas of life there is a source of unity and love, I propose that every faith institution practice hospitality by sheltering, in our buildings that sit empty overnight, at least one person currently homeless.
The power of religious faith is manifest in its capacity to help its adherents overcome fear; this is a toe in the water, a little toddler's first step. Such a proposal is intrinsic to Christians' very essence. It is woven right into our spiritual DNA.
I think as we enter the year 2008 every Christian congregation should make a room in their sanctuary to house one stranger in need of shelter. I think those outside the Church should rightfully discern the spirituality of those inside the Church through this one simple example of overcoming fear with faith. I think the very reputation of God is what is at stake: What kind of God creates a people that can willingly worship in their sanctuary, sleep warm in their beds at night, and yet, because of fear and inconvenience, avoid, deny, and sometimes outright scorn those who have neither bed nor sanctuary?
As for me, the only God I know is the One who continually pushes me further and further out of my fears with the promise that one day I, too, will be a human being, created and crafted in the very likeness and nature of God. Incarnation begins with opening the door.