“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” --Luke 2:7
No room at the inn.
Sorry: we’re all filled up. No vacancies tonight. Go home? Well…I’ve got no home to go home to. Just my car in the parking lot. Just an old box stretched out over a heating grate by the subway entrance. Just a cramped motel room I’ve been living in with my kids for the past eight months. Just a hard bed in a scary shelter along with seventy five other strangers. No room.
There’s something about a chilly winter’s January eve in New England that always convicts me, makes me sad at the truth that tonight, thousands of folks, my neighbors in fact, won’t find a room at the inn or any where. They don’t have a house or apartment key jangling at the end of a keychain, so comforting in its dependability. They work hard but it’s at a minimum wage job with no benefits and that check at the end of the week just can’t pay the rent, not even close. They suffer from drug addictions or alcoholism or mental illness and aren’t healthy enough to care for themselves and so they call the street home. They are veterans so scarred by war that they keep on fighting the battle of life, except now the struggle is against inner demons and the winter cold.
The numbers are certainly enough to cause a chill to run up my spine, even as tonight I’ll be all warm and snug and safe in my bed and home.
*3,600: families with children in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program.
*1,498: Bay State families with children being sheltered in motels.
*7,000: Massachusetts families assisted with emergency shelter during the past twelve months
*8: average age of a person experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts
*3,000: average number of shelter beds occupied on a given night in Massachusetts
*43,600,000: Americans living in poverty
*$22,128 per year: poverty level for a family of four in the United States
*2010: highest number of people living in poverty in the United States since 1959 when the federal government began the measurement.
*Average rent for a two bedroom apartment in the city of Boston: $2,100 a month
Now I could respond to those numbers in so many ways. Blame “those folks” for not pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. We live in an opportunity economy, right? I could be so put off and shocked by the numbers that I’m numbed and do nothing. What can I do as just one person? Or maybe, just maybe, I could decide to do something to help them, inspired by a faith of compassion or made tender hearted by another’s suffering or just remembering that I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s too.
For lots of folks there is no room at the inn but it doesn’t have to stay that way. So next Saturday and Sunday, January 21st and 22nd, youth and adults from the church I serve at 25 South Main Street in Sherborn will “sleep out” in a makeshift wooden shelter on the front lawn of our faith community. For twenty-four hours we’ll hold a vigil to remind us, and hopefully our wider community, that the homeless and the hungry are with us and are so much more than nameless statistics or cold numbers. And that as a citizens and folks of faith we can do and must do something. We’ll also be collecting non-perishable food for a Place to Turn, the largest food pantry in metro west.
Now spending a couple hours in the cold will never ever compare to the conditions that the homeless and hungry endure. But our hope is inspired by a wise teacher who 2,000 years ago came into a world which had no room for him or his young parents.
So please…stop by and say hello or honk your horn when you drive by or drop off some food donations or just say a prayer. Tonight there is no room at the inn. But maybe one night soon, all God’s children will have a warm and safe place to call home.