Longing for the embrace

charis-nativity-2016Embrace and inclusion, for me, represent the highest manifestation of our aspiration to be a just society. We can do many things to pursue that aspiration but for me, the acid test of justice actualized is embrace: Do we belong to each other? Are we a people together? Are we inclusive?

The Nativity story is infused with the spirit of inclusiveness. Mary demonstrates it as she welcomes “shepherds” into her primitive delivery room. Shepherds, anonymous, impoverished, and of the lowest possible status were considered culturally unclean and excluded from the community and its religious life. Imagine such a group showing up at your house for Christmas or for the birth of your child.

And while they wouldn’t appear for a year or more, eventually came the Magi, the “wise men” with their gifts both valuable and symbolic. They were, perhaps, even more distant from Mary and Joseph’s world than the Shepherds, rich guys who could afford a speculative vacation, with a newborn King as the end of their vision quest. They were culturally and socially removed from every other person in the Holy Family’s life. Yet there they are, hanging with the carpenter’s family on our Christmas cards.

Then of course there was the Little Drummer Boy. (No there wasn’t! But wouldn’t it be nice if he had been?)

So, the cast includes shepherds and magi, the poor and rich, Jewish, and perhaps Zoroastrian, the unwanted and the cherished. They are drawn together by a birth. And Mary and Joseph have the capacity to welcome all into their space. That is embrace; and speaks to their inclusive spirit.

I like to think that, had the Shepherds and Magi arrived at the same time, Joseph would have offered them the chance to sit together over some bread and curds, and created a safe, welcoming space for both.

Christmas might be the most inclusive time of the year in Toronto. This is my 34th Christmas at the Mission and I am in love with the way that Christmas still brings people together. Our city’s poorest and richest, people from every imaginable nation and culture come to YSM to give and to receive. They come to share and be part of something bigger than their fears, resentments, prejudices and judgements. Collectively, we stand together for a better city and world. We belong, we care and we contribute to the good of all.

And the YSM gathering is strikingly diverse.

People who lean far to the left and others who lean far to the right; the very rich and they very poor; people whose judgemental nature or religious beliefs often lead them to exclude others; people who are either ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ whatever’s being debated; people who openly bleed from the deep wounds on their soul and others who mask wounds and silently suffer alone; groups and cultures who may disdain each other – all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our food room or toy store, rising above differences to work for a higher good: together they bring their own gold, frankincense and myrrh and for a moment, enter an aspirational realm that seems unattainable from January through November.

This inclusive moment is no less real, even if for the rest of the year we may not readily like or tolerate each other. For a moment, like Mary and her visitors, we connect; we are Christmas people living in the hope of a more compassionate, just and inclusive city. For a moment, just as in your favorite Christmas card, we stand together around a poor born child and commit ourselves to break down so many walls of division and choose, for a moment, to be together for the good of all.

Ain’t it great? Imagine if we could do it year ‘round.

Merry Christmas … Rick

Remember Yonge Street Mission all year

While all of us respond to people’s needs more readily at this time of year, human need is a year-round reality. Yonge Street Mission’s community engages people experiencing “need” 365 days a year. Thank you for remembering the Mission this Christmas. Please remember our work throughout the remainder of the year. Thank you for your friendship, connectedness and generosity.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This is the official music video for O Come, O Come Emmanuel from Anna Hawkins’ latest album Divine. Filmed in Israel in the desert and streets of Jerusalem. Anna Hawkins is from New Zealand where she has become a local sensation with two CDs to her credit. I just recently found her music and quite like it. Again Merry Christmas and a blessed 2017…. Rick