It’s Advent again, and I’ve been thinking about the world that is ending, a new birth of freedom, and what it means for us to wait with Mary for the salvation that is pure gift, even when it comes through our very bodies.
Being in this season reminds me of what we learned as a community at Rutba House last year. I wrote about it in a note to friends:
At the beginning of Advent this year, the Rutba House community felt pressed for time. Folks were busy with work, with projects, with family, with emergencies. Our schedules were full with the sort of things we set out to do eight years ago.
And the voicemail was full, too. Six different people had called to ask if we might have a place for them to stay.
Did we have a place?
Yes, sort of. We could squeeze one person into the top bunk in a single guy’s room. We might be able to fit another couple in the guest room — for two weeks, at least.
All of this would be difficult. But how is a Christian house of hospitality going to say no to the stranger who might be Jesus, right at the beginning of Advent?
And then, in the middle of our house meeting, a moment of honesty: one member said he felt an almost obsessive urgency to say “Yes” to these requests. It wasn’t healthy. It came from a deep need to prove something — to convince himself that he hadn’t been neglecting the community, that we weren’t struggling. He felt like we had to do it to prove that we were OK.
But there, in that moment, we knew that we weren’t OK. We weren’t taking care of one another. We were in no place to welcome someone else.
Jean Vanier says that people come to Christian community because they want to serve the poor, but that we can only stay when we admit that we are the poor.However important our work may be, our ability to do it isn’t what makes us a community. We’re not a house of hospitality when we figure out how to take care of everyone who’s homeless. We’re a house of hospitality when we learn to wait, when we learn to open ourselves to grace, when we let love transform us, one relationship at a time.
Last year, Advent opened us up to a new posture, a new year. An old friend, George, who had been shot in the neighborhood, came home from the hospital to Rutba House. Many of you learned about George when we had a little campaign here at The Everyday Awakening to win him a handicap accessible van. Even though he didn’t win, some of you introduced him to some great folks who’ve been an incredible gift to him and to us. And one friend, a pastor in the area, called us when a family from him church wanted to donate a handicap accessible van.
Through the gift of extended community, God has provided in ways we couldn’t have known to even ask for.
And this Advent, thanks to yet another unexpected gift, George has been able to tell his own story in the form of a short film. I hope you’ll take four minutes to watch and listen. This is the story of turning that I most want to share as I think about our past year.
We continue to believe, as Dorothy Day often said, that the only solution is love. What’s more, we keep seeing that it’s true in our own lives.
Here’s praying that love will be born anew in surprising ways where you are this Christmas.