A Christmas Story

“…This shall be a sign unto you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” – An Angel of the Lord

I met T.J. on the street on Christmas Eve.  I am certain that he is newly homeless. T.J. appears to be in his early sixties, and his face is too fresh, too innocent to have been on the street very long.  He still has a light within him. He had a coat (though not a warm one), but no gloves, a thin pair of khaki pants, white cotton socks and loafers.  The temperature was in the mid-twenties when I met him.  There was something about the way he talked in his southern-accented soft voice that told me that something wasn’t quite right with him mentally.  If he was on the street in Florida, he might be okay, but not in Milwaukee in December. He was child-like as he explained that his wife had recently passed away, along with both of his parents.  We gave him some ski gloves and a hat, a backpack, and a blanket, and a better insulated coat.  We told him that he should go up the block and seek shelter in the Rescue Mission.  He didn’t impress me as a drunk or crack-head so he has at least a chance of getting in there.  My greatest worry was his innocence.  I was afraid that if darkness fell on him, the predators of the street would rob him and hurt him for the items we had just given to him.  We prayed with him…long and hard.  Did we just set him up as a target for the genuine demons that inhabit these alleys after dark?  And in the midst of my fear for him, and in the midst of obvious unsuitability for life of the streets, I wondered where Christmas was for him.

When I say that I wondered where Christmas was for him, I don’t mean all the baubles and bows and sentimentality that our culture associates with this holiday.  I mean the real Christmas…the stable that sat somewhere between what ought to be and what is…the glory of the Lord revealed to the least of these…a savior born in the midst of very broken things.  The streets are violent and mean.  Predators prey on the weak, the handicapped…they devour the meek.  And if I had to find a word to describe T.J., he is meek.  And he is vulnerable.  And he is a little lost mentally…not quite all there.  Most of the shelters are full.  And one has to kind of know the system…know how to get places…in order to find room in an inn.  We can give people directions and resources…but we simply cannot shelter them all.  There are hundreds of T.J.’s out on the street. Who do we think the homeless are? In large part, they are people like T.J.  who are mentally ill, or simply mentally unable to figure things out and claw their way up. We just don’t have the resources…we don’t have enough buildings…we don’t have enough political clout.  That day, we had coats and gloves and hats…and prayers.  We didn’t even have a decent pair of wool socks to give him.  God has to be at work out here, too.

Like the shepherds keeping watch in their fields, T.J. is open to anything…any sign…any wonder. Will Bethlehem open a door to this man…one of the least of these?  Will T.J. find a manger in which he can spread out that blanket and sleep safe with his savior? Jesus came for people like T.J..  Somewhere between the world that ought to be and the world that really is, I can’t help but wonder whether these streets will carve out a little place for meekness, a place for innocence and vulnerability.  Will there be a star in the East that will guide this man to a real-deal Savior? Or will the streets still be the streets again this year…this Christmas…and rob this man, and beat him, and leave him for dead? Are there enough tears in all this land to cry for every T.J.?  Did God hear our prayer?  Because, in T.J.’s case, that is his only hope.  As I listen to colleagues argue over whether it is more righteous to have a worship service on Christmas morning or not…as I hear the pride in their loud proclamations, I can’t help but wonder if any of us…any of us…even understand Christmas at all.

Merry Christmas, T.J.. Peace be with you, my friend.

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