Christmas is a birth story tied into not having a home. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, because there was no room at the inn. Jesus’ parents had traveled there because of the demands of an imperial census. Empires need to know how many people there are under their control so that they can more effectively tax them.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is born at home, but the holy family had to quickly flee after his birth to avoid the slaughter of the innocents ordered by King Herod. Herod wants no threat to his reign, which was carefully crafted to keep the Roman Empire happy. Prophecies of the birth of a coming king had unnerved him. So the holy family fled into exile in Egypt.
Birth stories and not having a home, something our guests at Manna House can easily relate to. So, this past week I talked with guests about their births.
“Where were you born” I asked, and, “Did the angels sing when you were born?”
The first question was easily answered. The second provoked many memories, some painful, some joyous, some a mixture of both.
“I was born here in Memphis. My Mom was fifteen. I don’t know if the angels sang or not. It wasn’t easy for Mom. I try not to think about it much.”
“I was born in Arkansas. My Daddy was murdered when I was one. Our house burned down when I was two. My Momma saved me. She ran into the house and wrapped a quilt around me. I was burned pretty bad. I don’t know if the angels sang when I was born, but they were there that day, making sure I didn’t die.”
“I was born in Frayser. Did the angels sing? I guess so. I was told my parents were happy when I was born. My Dad worked at Firestone. He made good money. When it closed it got all different.”
“I was born in Memphis. Grew up right here. Been here my whole life. I don’t know about angels singing but my parents loved me while they were still alive. I lost them both when I was still a kid.”
“When I was born the angels sang, because God loved me then and now. But I was given up for adoption. Sometimes I feel like I have no family. I won’t be home for Christmas. I’ll be in a shelter.”
Jesus’ birth story perhaps means a little more to those who are close to the edge. They have yearned as much as anyone for love and for home and for acceptance. They know life is fragile and so is love.
We talked some about how the angels sang when Jesus was born, but he did not have an easy life.
“That’s the way life is; hard.”
“He was like us even when we are not much like him, you know, about sin.”
“I never thought much about how we’re like him. Mostly I’ve been told he’s above us, being the Lord and all.”
“’Fear not’ the angel said. Good advice for Mary and Joseph and for Jesus and for us, especially now.”
“You know what God was trying to say in Jesus? I’m with you and won’t ever let you go, so don’t let others go. That’s it.”
Merry Christmas from Manna House.