In his 2014 movie “Time out of Mind”, Richard Gere plays a homeless man living on the streets of New York. Gere said,“When I went undercover in New York City as a homeless man, no one noticed me. I felt what it was like to be truly homeless. People would just past me by and look at me in disgust.”
The film crew was far enough away to get an honest picture of what the homeless must go through. “I will never forget the feeling of being treated like human trash,” he said. At one point, during the filming, Gere decided to eat some food thrown in a trash can. As he ate the food, most people looked away. But one person did not.
A Tourist named Karine and her family were visiting from Paris. Seeing this man eat from the garbage can, she offered him her left-over pizza and apologized because it was cold. She did not recognize the famous actor.
Gere said, “Her kindness shook me to the core, and it caused a change in me.” He continued, “So many times we forget how blessed we are. We should not take that for granted. And if we can help someone in need, we should. That’s why after I was done filming, I walked around and gave food and $100 to every homeless person I saw.”
A few of us here today, probably know what it feels like to be homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development puts out an annual report to Congress, that evaluates the plight of the homeless. They say, 1 out of 10 people will be homeless, sometime in their lives.
Their 2018 report estimated that 553,000 people were homeless on any given night in the United States. That is one in 588 persons. 65% stayed in shelters and 35% lived on the streets. Around 1/5th of these were children under 18.
Currently they estimate that there are around 5,300 homeless in Indiana. We have 146 registered shelters statewide; there are 4 here in Muncie and probably many more unregistered. And they estimate there are nearly 200 people who will need shelter each night, and we cannot house half of them.
Also, take into consideration these are only the folks we know about, many fly under the radar because they just keep moving. Some estimates double or triple the number of homeless in Indiana. And these folks have no place to lay their heads.
When the economy was bad, the numbers of homeless skyrocketed and they have just finally begun to stabilize. Now, we may think that could never happen to us, but that is false. So many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which means many are only about 4 paychecks away from being homeless. In fact, new statistics suggest it is possible that 40% of Americans are only one paycheck away from being homeless.
Joseph and Mary knew what it felt like to be homeless. They had become engaged and were most likely married in a rushed wedding because Mary was pregnant. Then, a call came out for all citizens to return to their birth places of birth for a census.
So, while Mary was very pregnant, they headed from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They arrived late and Mary was already having mild contractions. Unfortunately, the tiny town was packed full of people.
While many translations say that Joseph and Mary were turned away from an inn, modern scholars tell us that ‘an inn’ can also be translated as a guest room. After traveling all that way, it seems more likely that Joseph and Mary would have stayed with his extended family.
But, since they already had a full house, Mary and Joseph were asked to stay in the animal cellar in the basement. Now, this raises an awful lot of questions about the family, doesn’t it? Who puts a pregnant woman in a dug-out cellar where animals are kept?
An animal cellar is drafty, dirty, smelly, cool and noisy. These are not good conditions in which to deliver a baby, right? Maybe we need to think again. While many women in that day gave birth in their own homes, not everyone did.
Some still gave birth in tents, especially if they were away from home. The reason was, they had very specific cleanliness laws. To have a baby in a home made it unclean. If you had a boy, the home was unclean for 7 days and if you had a girl, the home was unclean for 14 days. (Leviticus 12:1-5)
At this point in time, during the census, the house was full. Having a baby indoors would make everyone unclean. The best choice then, was, to place them in the animal shelter. This does change the way we view the manger scene, at least a little. Mary may have had some women there to help her. But they still wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger which is an animal feeding trough.
It just doesn’t seem right, does it, that Jesus would be born in a dug-out cellar used to keep animals. Sometimes we sing, Jesus came from heaven to earth, maybe we should be singing he came from heaven to dirt.
Paul writes to the Philippians in Chapter 2:6-7 that, “Jesus, who being the very nature of God, did not consider himself equal to God, but made himself nothing’ and he became a servant.”
Another way to say it is that he was ‘a man of no reputation’. He was homeless, common, just normal, and he blended right in.
The Bible says in Isaiah 53:2, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
Make no mistake about it, Jesus understood what it feels like to be homeless. When he came to live with us, he left his glory behind. He was at the mercy of a harsh, cruel world. A world that can be frightening and dangerous.
In fact, within less than 3 years after he was born, his family would have to pack-up and flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Again, they were on the road — and again, Jesus would have no home. (Matthew 2:13-15)
For most of his life, Jesus was totally dependent on strangers to feed, clothe and give him a place to sleep.
Jesus relied on being welcomed into the hearts and homes of others. And he was used to being rejected, despised, rebuffed, and turned away by people who could not see the gifts he brought to the world.
At one point in his ministry, while as he was traveling, a man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)
To which Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” (Luke 9:58)
One pastor wrote, “Think about this; Jesus had to borrow almost everything he ever used in this world. He had to borrow Mary’s womb to arrive. He borrowed a cellar and a trough to lay his head. He borrowed fish and loaves to feed others.
“He borrowed a boat as a place to preach from. He borrowed an upper room for a meal. He borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He borrowed the arms of another to help carry his cross. And he borrowed a tomb for his burial.”
2 Corinthians 8:9 reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich.”
The gospel isn’t talking about us being made millionaires here; it is talking about us being rich in mercy, love, hope, compassion, faith and in generosity. But many of us have it too good, and we forget what it really cost him.
In the movie ‘Homeless for the Holidays’, a smug executive named Jack thought he had the perfect life, until he lost his job. Eventually, he takes a humiliating job flipping burgers but still can’t make ends meet. He holds out hope but on Christmas Eve, he finally faces the inevitable. His family will be out on the streets.
It is a low budget film that was filmed here in Indiana. But it has a strong message about the realty of that first Christmas, as Jack realizes that Baby Jesus lay in a dirty manger, born to a poor family.
Sometimes hope comes in strange packages and from strange places. But when we get to the heart of Christmas, it may not look like anything we imagine. People were looking for and expecting a king and instead found a baby lying in a manger born to a teenage girl.
People were looking for hope in power, military might and conquest. Yet, hope came instead in unselfishness, in servanthood and in sacrifice.
We would like to believe that all the gifts, the food and the celebrations bring us closer to Christ and others at Christmas. Yet with the rush, the gatherings, the shopping and the preparation; we might actually find ourselves further from the true gifts of Christmas.
When all is said and done, we just might find that we simply don’t have any energy or room left for Jesus or others. And what a shame it would be if we miss the One who came to take away the sin of the world. What a shame if we miss the message that He came for each of us, because he loves and values us.
I want to end with this little story from Rev. Kent Crockett, it is called ‘Still Valuable’.
A well-known speaker began his seminar by holding up a twenty-dollar bill. He asked everyone at the conference, “Who would like this new twenty-dollar bill?” Hands went up all over the room.
He said, “I’m going to give this twenty-dollar bill to one of you, but first I need to crumple it.” He wadded up the bill and then asked, “Who still wants it?” Hands were quickly raised.
The speaker dropped the bill and ground it into the floor with his shoe causing it to tear. He picked up the crumpled, torn, and dirty bill. “Now who wants it?” Everyone still lifted their hands.
“Friends, he said, “you have all learned a valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still want it — because its value hasn’t changed. Even though the bill is crumpled, torn and dirty, it’s still worth twenty dollars. Now, let’s put that in human terms,
“Although someone may have been misused, abused, hurt and mistreated, he or she still has infinite worth. Every person is precious in God’s sight.” Crockett finishes with these words, “In God’s eyes, the homeless person lying in the gutter is just as valuable as the most admired movie star.”
I would add, ‘Please don’t forget that!’
When Richard Gere played the role of a homeless man, his eyes were finally opened to the plight of others less fortunate than himself. At that time, he changed his response. And he said these words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
That is our role as Christians and it begins when we accept the Lord, share the Good News, live sacrificially, and be the change Christ calls us to be. The world needs more people to love like Jesus.
That my friends, is what Christmas is all about.
Your assignment is…to reach out to someone who feels left out this Christmas. Send them a card, place a phone call to them or even, if you are really feeling radical, invite them to dinner. You just might find, that you are welcoming angels in disguise.
May it be so,Amen