Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reminded us, “He comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor.”
Over the last several days, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on “beggars”. It all started when I was out doing errands last week and I stopped to get my drink of choice, a diet soda with lots of ice. While I had drinks at home, there is something different about a fountain soda!
As I pulled up, I saw a disheveled man wrapped in an old coat, sitting on the curb, huddled in the cold. Perhaps you’re wondering if I gave him something to eat. The plain and simple answer is “yes”. Forget all the pros and cons of my actions. My heart was overwhelmed at that moment with grief and sadness. Why? Because not only did I see that man, but I immediately saw the children who beg on the streets in Nicaragua, the children who ran up to us as we served at a clinic in the dumps of Managua, the children who die daily from hunger, the children who’ve known nothing else.
I also saw my Mom, who struggled immensely while raising 10 kids, but making sure none of us ever had to beg for food, even though we were poor. I suspect, no….actually, I know that my mother begged and advocated for us, her children, on many occasions and for many reasons. Oddly, I felt close to my Mom and shed tears as I fed the homeless man. No, please don’t think I’m satisfied with how I respond to others. I always wonder what more I could do. And I’m not sharing this experience out of pride, but rather out of a desire to share my thoughts and feelings hoping it might evoke some thought, feeling or memory for you.
So, when I saw the homeless beggar last week, I saw Jesus. I also saw Mom who protected her kids from having to beg. I saw the Nicaraguan children who have tugged on my shirt, pleading for something, anything.
You might be wondering why this is such an important piece of my prayer during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. The pure and simple fact is that Mary and Joseph had to beg for a place to stay so Mary could give birth. And I don’t know about you, but I suspect most of us have begged on some level during our lifetime. Perhaps we‘ve begged for healing of a loved one, or perhaps we‘ve begged to save a child we loved, or perhaps we’ve begged for a family member to get the help they need for addiction.
The concept of begging has taken on a negative connotation in our society, so we sometimes use terms like pleading, storming heaven, imploring, but I’d like to suggest that we “are” that beggar on some level. We are the ones who should beg to see with the eyes of Christ, so that we don’t look away, turn our heads pretending not to see, or we see “through or beyond” those in need.
We are the ones who should beg with open hands, so we can become the touch of Christ for those in need.
We are the ones who should beg for the heart of Christ, a heart filled with compassion and kindness.
We are the ones who should reach with outstretched arms, so our arms and our actions truly reach the broken, the homeless, the lost and forgotten, like Christ stretched his arms for us.
Yes, perhaps we should stop looking beyond or through those in need, and, perhaps we should remember Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. Not everything that is good and right and just will come easily or comfortably. It didn’t for Joseph, Mary or Jesus, so why should we think it would for us?
My reflections and prayers over the past few days has been focused on begging and on some level, I have come to realize, on a deeper level, that my ministry with the Mission of Hope is simply to “see”, to “reach out” and to become one with those who beg for food, who beg for medicines, who beg for shelter. It is a ministry of Hope. And the ones presented to me are the neighbors Bonhoeffer speaks of, like the homeless beggar. Whether a victim of a local fire here in upstate NY, or a family without shelter in Nica, or a disabled child in Ghana, or a refugee in so many places, they are all “OUR NEIGHBORS”.
Once again, one message of the Christmas miracle is not about exclusion; it is about inclusion. It is about how we “see” with eyes of faith and hope and love. It is about one act of kindness at a time. It is about welcoming the beggar in our midst…it is about welcoming the Christ-child, whenever….wherever….especially when we least expect to find him, because most certainly, he is there!
So, in closing today, I invite you to look deeply into the eyes of the Nicaraguan children, the beggars in the photo accompanying my news and notes today. LOOK AND SEE…..because they are Christ Child in the form of a beggar. They are the children of God, they are the images of God….may we always see Christ in those we serve.
Live and be the HOPE of Christmas everyday! Merry Christmas.