Advent is filled with prophetic promises of a better world in which to live. This morning, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1).
In the midst of these promises, people living on the streets line up at Manna House to get their names on the list for showers or for “socks and hygiene.” After days of cold rain, the sun is out this morning. But the temperatures are dropping as a cold north wind makes itself known. There is little of salvation or justice in the air.
A question arises about a guest asking to get on the shower list. Is he allowed to shower, or he is still banned? He has quite a reputation for trouble. Over the years he has been asked to be away for a month or more several times. He has a hard time treating other guests and volunteers with respect. He almost always goes over the limit of 20 minutes we ask each guest to observe for their shower time so that others may also shower. He is sour, angry, prickly. He easily flies into a rage when he perceives some slight.
But he is also Christ in the stranger’s guise (Matthew 25:31-46). This is the fine line we walk at Manna House. We believe in the prophetic promises of Jesus, so we try to welcome each guest as Christ. But at the same time, not every guest who comes to Manna House is Christ-like. Do we live into the prophetic promise of Jesus?
This morning we decide to try again. We live into hope in the promise. We put this guest on the shower list. When his name is called, he comes in and is friendly, cooperative, and finishes his shower early.
A little while later, the same question arises about another guest. We decide to put him on the shower list. When his name is called, he comes in and is demanding, disrespectful, and goes way over the time limit for his shower. Finally, as he completely disrupts our ability to offer other guests showers, he is asked to leave and told he cannot shower here until next month. Enraged, on his way out he selects a number of excellent cuss words with which to describe each of us.
And this is how the morning at Manna House goes. We go back and forth between the prophetic promises of God and the ongoing realities of sharing hospitality as broken people with broken people in a broken world. We have another world in view (and sometimes catch glimpses of it here and now), and we live in this world (filled with suffering, sorrow, and sourness).
I believe this is why we have to start each morning with prayer. I know I need to put in God’s hands the whole ongoing contrast between what ought to be and what is. In this place, we live between the prophetic promises fulfilled and the yearning for those promises to be fulfilled.
And so, we pray in this way with our guests at Manna House each morning. We ask God to bless the coffee, and we respond, “Make it hot.” We ask God to bless the sugar, and we respond, “Make it sweet.” We know as we pray that the coffee is already hot, and the sugar is already sweet. The promise is already fulfilled. But then, we ask God to bless the creamer, and we respond, “May it take all life’s bitterness away.” Here we proclaim our hope in the promise that makes our sharing of hospitality at Manna House possible.
In this Advent season, the constant sharing of the prophetic promises, including that of a Savior who is to come, raises our hopes. But it also raises the reality of the contrast between the promises of a better world to come, and the world in which we live. This world has sorrow and joy, brokenness and healing, death and life, sin and salvation.
Advent raises and intensifies the question, do we hold on for (and live into) the joy, the healing, life and salvation, or do we give into the sorrow, the brokenness, the power of death, and sin?
In the midst of the injustice of homelessness, Manna House is where I try to live into the reality that Christ comes in the stranger’s guise. In doing so, I hope to share in the grace of God’s loving, life-giving, and liberating hospitality, and I pray:
Come, Lord Jesus, bring us your peace and your justice
that we may rejoice before you with a healed and loving hearts.