Pr. Manda Truchinski
I remember the first year I was working with families experiencing homelessness. All my friends were working in similar jobs, with people who were surviving, not thriving. It was usually hard to muster hope for the people we worked with. Doing so was full of risk. It could be painful, fearful, and make us vulnerable every day. We would regularly lean on one another for mutual consolation and support. There were long happy hour gatherings, heartfelt phone calls at lunch, and more than one trip out of the city where we could distance ourselves and process what we experienced.
We naively thought that Christmas would be a relief, but for many of us we experienced the other side of Christmas charity for the first time. That's when the hopelessness that threatened our relationships with our clients grew to include the generous givers. Our organizations would get an utter flood of presents in December. Gifts like bicycles, clothes, vehicles, furniture, and more gift cards than you could shake a stick at. Such an overwhelming amount in a short time sent our people into a tailspin. Kids would have bikes but with no home it wasn't possible to keep them. Individuals would be gifted more clothes than they could carry on their back. One family that I worked with got a new home at Christmas from a well-known TV show and lost it a month later because there was no long-term plan to keep them there.
All the well-meaning charity that revolved around material goods and short term feelings undermined the already difficult system of assistance that our clients had to navigate. New treasures became liabilities. There was increased fighting within and among families. There was more anxiety and magical thinking than usual. It gave everyone a reason to abandon long-term goals. And all the careful structure of support that we'd been working on throughout the year crumbled like a building after a fire.
If it wasn't for the support of my friends, and the veterans who had been through it before us, I know that many of us would have quit out of despair. We worked so hard to have hope in a desperate situation and then even charity made hope more difficult.
Every year we wait with joy, knowing that Christmas will come. It always does. But those who first waited for Christ waited in faith, not certainty. They had to hope in something that they had not yet seen happen or known was possible. And hope can be painful, fearful, vulnerable, and full of risk.
Today we also wait for Christ with hope. We yearn for a fix to the problems we see around us: poverty, injustice, racism, xenophobia, corruption. Sometimes when we can't find a solution, we say "Nothing will change until Jesus comes again." And those words guarantee that the world keeps burning. They let us off the hook because if only God can save us, what use is our hard work?
But what if God is waiting for us? What if God needs us because God is unwilling to do it alone? What if we - doing the good work God has already called us to - can help God's saving work to be revealed here and now? Our stories, our songs, our service, our shelter might be the very things that welcome in the world we long for.
This is where we need one another. We need one another for the support to keep on doing what God has called us to do. We need one another to celebrate and mourn the stops of our journey. We need one another to fan the flames of hope that a better tomorrow is possible. That which we await is not yet fully here. So we keep watch, holding on to one another so we don't buckle under the world's pain.
Christ the Good Shepherd
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