Im still trying to get out a decoration or two at this hour why bother, except that we are expecting a couple of dinner guests, lonely hearts who had no other place to go. Ordinarily I wouldnt take time to blog on Christmas Day.
But after a rich and rewarding Christmas Eve service last night, I am still thinking about those who have no other place to go or to be on this day, to give and receive some love.
Fortunately, we had enough gifts come in last night so that I will be able once again (our fifth year) to take our annual gift cards to the 24 young people at the Jeff Griffith Youth Center in Hollywood. This is a residential program for runaways, throw-aways, kids who are trying to get back up after a hopeless descent into drugs or other addictions, even street prostitution or crime. Their stories would break my hart, except for the tangible love and spectacular results that the Center gets in helping youth get the life skills and job applications it takes for them to be self-sufficient and self-respecting.
But there are so many others out there. The Jeff Griffith program only has 24 beds, and the number of homeless street kids in Hollywood and Los Angeles is fearful by some estimates in the thousands.
And I am thinking about the tens of thousands of LGBT people (and those for whom the four initials do not describe their life experience and self-understanding) who may be alone at Christmas simply because they have no one who listens, no one who understands or wants to understand, their hearts and the psyches.
The trouble with Christmas as many people see it is as the ultimate family holiday where people who fit nicely into conventional families get to celebrate their normalcy and belonging, to the exclusion of those who dont fit or dont even have family.
But the Christmas Gospels tell a story which doesnt support this, and tugs at our hearts to be open to those who arent in “conventional” families. (Of course, what is conventional nowadays, when more than half of all marriages end in divorces?) The Christmas Gospel tales touch on all the things that “nice” people want to forget or avoid, especially at the holidays.
- Mary and Joseph werent married. Were it not for Josephs willingness to swallow his pride and to avoid his legal rights to have Mary severely punished, Jesus would have been illegitimate.
- There was no room for them. The night Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were far from home and actually homeless.
- Where were their friends? Where was Marys mother, for Christs sake? The story implies the two of them had to deal with the birth themselves, in a dirty stable. Obviously, they were not economically prepared for this birth, the sudden travel, the lack of accommodations, the dirty conditions.
- Within a short time (weeks?) the “Holy Family” had to flee for their lives. They became political refugees in a foreign land, in order to avoid the genocidal and evil King Herod, who had all the infants of Bethlehem murdered out of jealousy of a potential rival.
- Most of all, they had to trust their own visions and dreams their own discernment that God was working a great deed and a wonderful miracle through their faithfulness. That is the Christmas Gospel in a nutshell.
None of us knows 100% if God is working through us, either, unless we trust our own discernment. I havent been sure since launching this blogprimarily to reach out to LGBT Christians and othersthat it is a god thing to do, or worth the effort. But then I checked the web statistics, and see there have been over 29,000 unique visits. That totally humbles me. It sort of worries me that I must personally probe more deeply, asa gay Christian, to discern what God is already doing that I should be a part of.But today God is doing what we understand so beautifully: God is coming to us again, and it is a gift of pure grace. If we can only discern this grace (Christ is a gift, life is a gift, we are Gods gifts to others), we can turn the world upside down. And we can find the home, family, warmth and welcome, that so many people do not have today. Quoting Mother Teresawhich I saw not in some pious book but painted on the wall of a nearby restaurant on Vermont just a block from our church”Noone can help everybody, but everybody can help some one.”
We can be Gods gift to another personto listen, to understand, to welcome, to uphold when lonely and confusing times in her or his life seem overwhelming. Forget the stuff and the gift wrap and the tinsel. Be the gift someone is longing to receive.
Pastor Dan Hooper, Los Angeles