Making Room

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us). -Isaiah 7:14

Last night, I slept overnight at my church. One week each quarter, our church hosts the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), a local organization that works with churches to provide overnight transitional housing for people in our community who find themselves homeless.

Usually, I'm grumpy when it's our turn to sleep at the church. I don't sleep very well. And it interrupts my morning routine. But usually, the stark reality of the situation breaks in pretty quickly.

Last night at the church, a young woman in her early 20s had two young children with her, the youngest just a few weeks old. Two more children were staying elsewhere. She had hoped to move in with a friend this week, but even the shared rent and utilities seemed too daunting.

The second woman had two older children with her. The youngest was celebrating his eleventh birthday and was looking forward to his mother bringing cupcakes to school in the morning. This woman grew up in one of the Mennonite congregations in our community and her grandfather had been a Mennonite minister.

Almost three million Americans are just like these two women and their families who find themselves without a place to call home at night. In my community, IHN provides short-term housing for over 40 families each year.

In the economic recession, more and more families are finding themselves in need of some sort of public assistance. In Indiana, where I live, the number of residents seeking welfare benefits has grown by nearly half in just the last two years.

This week, the temperature outside is in the 20s, but there are people who don't have a warm place to stay inside. Meanwhile, Congress is dickering about whether tax breaks should be extended to the wealthiest 1% among us.

I am little better than Congress. I drove home from the church this morning and turned on the Christmas lights, started the coffee, took a hot shower and washed the experience away.

Walter Wangerin says that heaven invades the world at Christmas, ripping our attention away from the world and making room for Immanuel, God with us.

The sign outside my church describes my congregation as "praying for peace, acting for peace." This year, I'm hoping that Christmas will invade my world, too, and the world of other Christians in my community and that we will do more than pray for the peace and well-being of others.


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