“Homeless stinks.” I can believe the statement; but I don’t fully understand what it means. A friend who is living the homeless experience said this to me, and I’m sure he’s right.
“Advent” is when I crank up Heinrich Schutz’s Christmas Oratorio full volume on my speakers. I let the beauty of it, the sheer, unadulterated majesty of late Renaissance / early Baroque sound waft over me, washing me like a baptism. Running a parallel track in my Advent consciousness this year is the voice of the prophet, Isaiah. Our congregation at First UMC Burlington is hearing the clarion call to peace, justice, healing, empowerment. With the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke in one ear, the voice of the homeless cries out to us in the other ear. Will the lame leap for joy, like a fawn in Springtime? Will we lean toward righteousness and justice?
Will our church family make the hard choices to overcome prejudice and our own opinions and let the Spirit of God stretch us out such that our circle of concern includes the neighbors who live on the margins? Isaiah doesn’t let us wallow in sentimentality when it comes to the changes that need to occur within us and around us. There will be judgment. Along with the romantic notion of a “little child leading them,” there is the reality of the necessity for a basic change of heart. Injustice doesn’t simply disappear. It has to be eradicated. But the prophet also makes it clear that this project is not one human beings are capable of on our own. Something – Someone outside ourselves has to be allowed into the picture.
Homeless is part of the Christmas Story. It’s not the only part, but the plight of the refugee is in the storyline. And so is the marriage of personal responsibility mixed with intervention – both human and divine. Joseph listened to the angelic message and he moved on it.
In a recent column in the NY Times, Charles Blow encouraged those for whom “life is a hill”, to “climb the hill”. “Life doles out favors in differing measures,” writes Blow, “often as a result of historical injustice and systematic bias. That’s a hurtful fact, one that must be changed. We should all work toward that change.”
He doesn’t underestimate the difficulty or cost of systemic change; but he doesn’t let us sit around and complain about it. In much simpler, perhaps more secular and direct ways, Charles Blow channels Israel’s ancient prophet. For Blow, it’s a hill to climb. For Isaiah, it’s “the mountain of the Lord”. In either case, let justice roll. We’ll have to give it our all. There can be no stopping. And we have to accept the need for a vision larger than life to see us through.
Homeless stinks. Isaiah doesn’t let up. Neither shall we – not until “homeless” becomes a historical memory for us all rather than a brutal fact of life for some.
Link to Charles Blow: For Some Folks, Life Is a Hill