The Golden Coral may not be what comes to your mind when you think of holy ground, but it’s come to be that for me. The Church where I work, has a relationship with a half-way house for men just getting out of prison.
These are guys who are needing a second chance in life, they’re often battling addictions, and always fighting to get a job. And over the past few years one of our Highland Church elders has invited/paid for/hosted a Christmas Party at the Golden Corral for every guy in the Halfway House.
We sing Christmas Carols, read the Christmas story, and there are testimonies from some of the guys who have won the battles with their own demons.
Then they ask me to give a short devotional.
A couple of Sundays ago, we had our annual Christmas party, and like every year it was a holy space.
Unlike a lot of ministry, I don’t have to convince these guys that the Gospel is true, they believe it, they need it to be true.
But what does Christmas have to say to a bunch of guys in their situations? Some of them would be the first to tell you that there lives were the definitions of a dumpster fire, and that they had made it that way. So some nostalgic, sentimental Charlie Brown/Norman Rockwell Christmas devo wouldn’t have done much good. It wouldn’t ring true with their own lives.
So I told them these two things. 1) Christmas meant Our Failures aren’t final.
Remember God comes through the line of David. David the adulterer. David the murderer. David the criminal. And while David’s dynasty suffered devastating consequences, there is a line in 1st Kings 12 that I think is brilliant. God says David’s Kingdom will be devastated…”But not forever.”
And then I told them this.
2) God Chose to be Poor too.
I know that most of us in this room aren’t going to be buying and receiving presents this year, most of us are living hand to mouth…if we’re lucky, and it would be easy for us to think that means that Christmas isn’t for us. But that would be a mistake.
Because God didn’t just become a human being, God became a human being living in poverty. Christmas is God choosing not just humanity, but the poor.
Think about it this way
The Shame of Bad Teeth
One of the reasons I love the church where I get to preach is because every Sunday I see a lot of people with bad teeth. That may sound strange, but if you don’t go to a church that is filled with missing teeth or dentures, something might be wrong with your church.
A couple of years ago, there was an article in the New York Times called The Shame of Poor Teeth in a Rich World written by Sarah Smarsh-Aeon
Mrs. Aeon describes growing up in Southern poverty, and the stigmas that she saw, and that still exist. It was a fascinating essay to me, because I also grew up in the South, below the poverty line, and around the same kinds of people that Mrs. Aeon was describing.
For example, my dad has had false teeth since I can remember, and growing up I knew almost no one who went to the dentist.
As a result, I grew up with a lot of people who had bad or missing teeth, some who lived in a lot of pain, and dreamed about the day when they could have their teeth pulled.
A few weeks ago, I saw someone who I hadn’t seen for a while at the church where I preach. As we were catching up, I asked her how she was doing, and what was going on in her life. Then she began to tell me that the reason she hadn’t been to church is because she had recently had all of her teeth pulled, and was too embarrassed to come to church without any teeth.
When she finally had her dentures, it took her a while before she could talk without them moving, or her whistling through them and drawing more unwanted attention to them.I would imagine that is not a problem that most of the people reading this right now have ever had, but it is one I have heard several times in my life.
I once heard Oprah say that when we meet new people, we size each other up based on two or three initial impressions, things like wardrobe and skin color, and teeth. One of the first things that we use to evaluate new people in our lives, are their teeth.
This is why that NY Times article resonated with me so much, because I know a lot of people who don’t smile because they are ashamed of what they look like. And before you start thinking about this being their fault, remember this isn’t just the product of eating too many sweets and not flossing enough, the poor rarely have access to dental health care.
And then we judge them for it. And we do judge them.
Here is the way Aeon says it:
It’s become less acceptable in recent decades to make racist or sexist statements, but blatant classism generally goes unchecked. See the hugely successful blog People of Walmart that, through submitted photographs, viciously ridicules people who look like contemporary US poverty: the elastic waistbands and jutting stomachs of diabetic obesity, the wheelchairs and oxygen tanks of gout and emphysema … Poor teeth, I knew, beget not just shame but more poorness: people with bad teeth have a harder time getting jobs and other opportunities.
This is the reason my friend didn’t want to come to church until she had adjusted enough to her dentures so that you couldn’t tell they were dentures. It is why she was embarrassed every time a slight whistle escaped while she was talking; because she was ashamed of her teeth, or the lack thereof.
A Poorer Jesus
A few years ago, I read a great little book called Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes, where two missionaries talk about what they learned about how to read the Bible while living in Asia. It is a great book, and I highly recommend it, but I especially latched onto one thing the authors just mentioned in passing. They were talking about what Jesus would have looked like, and how we American Christians have pictured him like a white male movie star. But they pointed out:
In antiquity, no one brushed their teeth. Wisdom teeth were a gift from the Lord because by the time they came in, you needed them! (Wisdom teeth became a problem only in the last century when we began to keep all our teeth.) But think about it: Can you imagine a Jesus who doesn’t have all his teeth? It seems like heresy to suggest otherwise … Weight control and oral hygiene are Western virtues, not ancient ones — nor, arguably, biblical ones.
Over the past few years, I can’t tell you how many of my brothers and sisters living below the poverty line and with teeth in poor conditions I’ve shared that with.
Jesus doesn’t look like Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. There is a very good chance that the Son of God, by the time He started his ministry, didn’t have teeth.
This is the world that God was born into.
God didn’t just choose humanity, God chose to be born in poverty, to be like the least of these, and then command His people to look for him there.
So take heartPeople of Wal-Mart and children in developing countries.
Take heart recovering addicts and rehabilitating prisoners,
Christmas isn’t just for the people in Norman Rockwell pictures or the people in the movies who have all their stuff together and all their teeth intact.
Christmas is for you. In fact you may get Christmas better than anyone else. Because God chose you.