Have you ever turned up somewhere and felt unwelcome? Doyou have a story about getting caught out, left out, finding yourself with no place to lay your head?
I was 19, and it was a Fridaynight in April 1989 when 5 of us decided to drive to Christchurch for the weekend. By 1am I was the only one left awake, which was fortunate as I was driving the car. By 3am we haddropped the girls off and then dropped offanothermate. He had changed his mind, and didn’t think his mum would want to see us atthat time in the morning. It was too late for a back packers and so my friend and I were suddenly alone and homeless in Christchurch. I think we found a tree to sleepunder in Hagleighpark. The great adventure had turned cold.
Christmas shouldbeabout family and festivities and fun; it should be about celebrating the Birth ofJesus, God’s best ever gift to humanity, the gift of himself. But it can also be about loneliness,indifference and rejection. That’s this moment on Christmas eve, when Mary and Joseph turned up in Bethlehem and there wasn’t any room for them. The town and people’s lives were too crowded. In the legend of Christmas, Mary and Joseph went from door to doorseeking a guest house with a vacant room,looking for a place to stay, until someone finally offered them a stable. In the historical version its more likely that Mary and Joseph went between relatives, finding that everyone’s guest rooms were all full, until someone offered them the chance to stay in the lower room, the common space, not much better than a stable, yet warm and safe.
This morning I want to talk about the twin epidemics of our age, homelessness and loneliness. But don’t worry this is a positive message, it’s a message about the power of one. The power of one, not a single shining hero, but letting one new person into your heart, that’s a present that Jesus would like. I was reading recently about how many of our older folk live alone in NZ, and how many have lost contact with their family or their friends. You can be lonely living in rest home, but more often its those living on their own that suffer in silence. I was reading how these aunties long for a phone call; how they delight at a knock on the door and someone to visit. New Zealand in the 21stcentury can be a very lonely place for some of our seniors. A place with no room.
Equally I’ve been thinking about the growthin Homelessness, in not being able to find a place, a rental a home to buy. I went to a hui on homelessness recently and discovered how pressure at the top end of the market, affects the bottom end of the market. If it’s hard for an Auckland or a Christchurch migrant who is cashed up to come and find a suitable house in Tauranga, then it’s no wonder rents have gone up by about $100 a week, and if its hard for those in the middle of the spectrum, then just imagine what it’s like for the long term homeless. There’s a myth in NZ that some people choose to be homeless, you know the rough sleepers. No one chooses to be homeless. For all these guys and for the group of people sleeping in their cars; there has been a perfect storm of circumstances come together to propel them into homelessness. And being the incredible image bearers we are, our homeless neighbours have adapted and survived. Often there has been a relationship break up, a job has been lost, alcohol has gone from being a friend to being trap; and if you didn’t start with a mental health illness, homelessness will often precipitate one. This advent as we think of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, let’s remember those who are homeless in our town.
BeforeI go on let’s take a bit of reality check. It can’t have been easy living in Bethlehem during the census– lots of people turning up. David was a popular man, Solomon had many wives, many lots of rellies, so maybe Bethlehem would have been swamped during the census. Also It’s not always easy making room for an older person, seniors have their particular likes and dislikes, some seniors are all too happy to express their judgements, and of course some might have health issues. Actually that’s just those of us in our forties! I’m not naive about the rough sleepers either, don’t give them money they will spend it on alcohol and drugs, some will welcome a chat and others will repay your kindness with rudeness. Whenever we prepare to show compassion we should consider we might get sworn at. But just consider this, when European settlers turned up on the wellington foreshore in 1840, they discovered a very different paradise than the one promised to them by the New Zealand company. To call Wakefield a people smuggler is probably an exaggeration. But he took people’s money and promised them a better life and then sent them off half way around the world on a leaky boat, and when they got here they didn’t find it anything like what they expected. And if local Maori hadn’t helped them build whare’s, and sold them supplies, and I suspect by July gave them a whole lot of help, they would have perished. We all need someone to take us into their hearts. The power of one, not a single shining hero, but letting one new person into your heart, that’s a present that Jesus would like.
Myfriends what shall we do about these twin plagues of the white horseman. A couple of years ago we helped a family living in a car by putting them up for a few days in a campground because of their immigration status they couldn’t get government help. My friend Jaco Reyneke later welcomed them into his home for a week or so until they could find a place. I know some of you have done the same. I know some of you own rentals and I want to credit anyone who buys a home and rents it out to strangers, you are part of the solution to homelessness. Over many years some of you have helped foster a dream for a nightshelter, which has now come to fruition. I know some of you foster kids, you take children into your house and you provide a home for them, bless you. I know many of you have adopted kids, you have welcomed children into your homes and your hearts on a permanent and lifelong basis. I know some of you have kept children when our culture says that it would be OK to have an abortion; it’s not easy to keep a child when you are single and unprepared, bless you for what you are doing. In these and many other ways, God’s people are turning the tide on homelessness and loneliness. The power of one, not a single shining hero, but letting one new person into my heart, that’s a present that Jesus would like.
But what next? I want to ask you to do 1 thing. I want to ask you to let one more person into your heart. Maybe a homeless person, or a lonely older person. Let’s start with the rough sleepers. Most of us are not equipped to provide the practical solutions, but we can do the basics. Rough sleepers are people just like you and me, and what they need most is to be embraced by our community and seen as individuals. Now I’m not saying it is easy, I find chatting to some of the homeless guys hard work. You know I’m a middle-class white guy. There is no magic. You just have to put in the hard yards, and get outside your comfort zone. The last homeless guy I was chatting to was telling me I really needed to try synthetic cannabis so I could understand, I think he was trying to wind me up, but perhaps not. But here’s what I don’t want to do, I don’t want to ignore. I don’t want to ignore eye contact. I don’t want to tut tutunder my breath. I don’t want to walk passed on the over side.
I Do want to stop as I walk past the rough sleepers in the city and say Hi. I Do want to try and learn people’s names. I Do want to ask the ‘check out operators question’? How’s your day going? Simple. But real. I want the guys sleeping rough near where I walk to know that I see them, for them to know they are not forgotten and that I see them as part of my community. I want to let them into my heart because they contain the image of God just like I do. The power of one, not a single shining hero, but letting one new person into my heart, that’s a present that Jesus would like.
Or maybeyour one thing could be this. To see a neighbour,a relative, an older chap that lives down the street and make room in your heart for one more person. Maybe it’s someone you meet here at church that you could make an effort to get to know a little better? But maybe it’s someone that God just put in your path, and I’m not talking about incidental and easy, this time I’m talking about planned and organised. Do you have someone you could ring once a week and chat to, or someone you could pop in on and have a cuppa with, I don’t just mean ladies, guys perhaps there is someone who you could notice that you could just call in on, change a light bulb, have a chat. The power of one, not a single shining hero, but letting one new person into my heart, that’s a present that Jesus would like.
That’s what I think of when I read about Joseph and Mary turning up in Bethlehem with no place to lie their heads. Let’s honour Jesus by the way we treat those around us. Worship him, and then love his people.