The charity Crises has let us know that homelessness has reached a record high of 170,000 families and individuals in the UK. More people are sleeping on the streets, in cars, tents and hostels than at any other time. Over the last 5 years the number of people recorded as homeless has risen each year and the figure has doubled in a five year period. 38000 people under the age of 24 are sleeping rough.
If you have never been in that situation it is difficult to imagine what it must be like. The uncertainty of knowing where you will sleep from one day to the next is frightening. In these cold, damp days there are people walking the streets trying to persuade people, a friend, a family member, a hostel manger to give them a bed for the night, a place to lay their head.
Over the last few weeks I have been in contact with 2 young men who often sleep in a close, a stair head because they have no home and no place to call their own – here in own area, right here amongst us – how shocking is that and they are not alone. They tell me that it is bone chilling through the night. There is the mental anguish that comes with not knowing where you will sleep, its disorientating, dispiriting. They feel as if they have disappeared down a crack in the pavement and are living in some kind of parallel world from the rest of us. We are planning for Christmas, they are planning just to stay alive each day.
We cannot pass over the fact that when the Christ-child came on earth he also was homeless. He also had no bed or home to call his own. He also was turned away by others. He was forced to live in the lowliest of dwellings, not even a place where humans live but where the animals live. Not perhaps the cold concrete of a stair head but the straw used for the bedding and feeding of an animal. The Christ child was homeless in Bethlehem
That scene has been played out through the ages. People born homeless, people forced to live without a home. People with no place to call their own. Refugees fleeing from their country in boats, by foot – they have no home to call their own.
It is not a mere detail to be passed over in the Christmas story that the Christ child is without a home, its at the very heart of the mystery. The story of the Christ-child is not like those glittery cards we send one another it is a story of human terror. A young woman almost turned out because she is with child. Joseph and Mary on the road like refugees. The Christ child born as homeless. Mary and Joseph and the child flying from violence and living in a foreign land. Does this not all sound familiar. It is the lot of many in our world.
The circumstances of how the Christ child comes to be born is a sign that God is not cold, not disinterested in the lot of many. He gives a sign of what he thinks and the sign is this – the Christ child born in the manger. Living and embracing the terrors of human existence that many have to face in our world today.
But not just embracing it but redeeming it.
The Christmas story tells us that it is not right that a young woman be driven from her family, that family is forced to live as refugees, that a child is born homeless, that families flee for their life from the violence that others would do to them. It’s not right that similar people in our own days should live in this way either.
The Christmas story tells us something about the mind and heart of God. He came down from heaven and is born in a stable. He is not cold and indifferent to the wintry winds that blow for human beings. For all those who have no home to call their own, for the many who live in our streets, and who struggle to have a place of their own, a roof over their head, a chair to sit on, a bed to lie on, a kitchen to cook in, hot water to wash by. He came on earth for them, to share their lot but to redeem their lives.
It’s not right that so many people are sleeping rough. Its not right that there are not enough hostels to provide for the people who have nit enough money to rent or buy a home. It’s not right that there is a poverty trap, where the poor don’t escape. Its not right that there are more people than ever homeless in our country just as it was not right that when the Christ child came there was no place for him to lay his head.
He came to share the lot of many but also to redeem lives. Its not right that there are two worlds out there. Anything we can do to bring those two worlds together and to challenge the injustices has to be good. Anything, by the grace of God, that we can do to redeem the situation has to be good.
Child of Bethlehem you came into our world in great uncertainty. You had no place to call your own. You lay with the animals because no human dwelling place could be found for you. You came to share the human miseries experienced by many in present times and through the ages. You knew that cold wind that blows and that cold shoulder that doesn‘t want to know. You wished to give a sign for all times that you came to share the burden and to lift the yolk that many labour under. You wish to redeem the world, to lift the burden and to teach us how to live. On this feast of your birth send light into a darkened world and raise up those who are cast down, as you promised.