"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2: 7)
I slept in the manger last night. I was with 12 of Charlotte's outcasts; the people we see but try not to see; the people in parks that we hurry away from; the people who lie in storefronts on cold nights under blankets, newspapers and plastic bags to stay warm while we walk by on the way home from a restaurant pretending we do not notice.
The sounds in the manger were not animal sounds (although many would say they were), but were the sounds of people coughing and sneezing from untreated illnesses; moaning from pains we cannot understand; crying out in their sleep from some nightmare that haunts them.
No one followed a star to come see them to give them gifts. Angels did not announce their arrival. Shepherds did not leave their flocks.
They were not dressed lovingly by their mothers in swaddling clothes, but wore clothes that were picked up here and there; clothes that were worn more for the weather and for availability and convenience than for style.
They did not smell of frankincense and myrrh, but of the street from which they came and to which they would return.
Their presence was not marked by a light in the sky for all to see. Very few people knew they were at our church that night.
We fed them.
We prayed with them.
We spoke with them.
We offered them showers.
And finally we gave them a mattress, some sheets, a pillow for their heads, a blanket for the night, and a one way light rail ticket back into the city for the next day.
As I watched them get on the light rail this morning, I wondered what would become of them. Would any of them be able to overcome their circumstances? Would any of them be able to defeat their illnesses? Would one of them walk out of his or her wilderness and begin preaching the Kingdom of God? I do not know. I have my doubts. But it was into such a doubting, troubled world that the Son of Man was born.
So until that day, the people of the manger will be taken to another church, and after that another church, and the night after that and the night after that and on and on.