Many of our neighborhoods and municipalities greet the holiday season with creative displays of lights, wreaths and candles. These decorations soften the darkness of the coming winter, and provide visual – and in the case of burlap-covered parking meters, financial – hospitality for the surrounding community.
That hospitality is sullied, for me at least, by the proliferation of lawn signs that have sprung up all over northern New Jersey over the last year or so: “Hate has no home here.” On one level, I get it – hate invaded Charlottesville this past summer; hate was the psychic force that fired bullets in Orlando, Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs and God knows where else. Hate is a virus that infects Twitter and Facebook with alarming regularity. We don’t want to give hate any more space than it has already claimed. I get it. Keep it out.
But we can’t. To say that we can keep hate out is a self-righteous fiction. One of the major challenges of the Christian faith is to acknowledge that we each have spasms or seasons of hate. Most of us have been trained not to act on these vengeful impulses; but we still have them. It is called sin. The subconscious text for “Hate has no home here” can often be – we hate the haters, which creates silos or stand-offs, and which then reinforces the polarization that has become so much a part of our cultural landscape.
Consider the Christmas story. Caesar Augustus’ greed for more revenue drove Mary and Joseph from their hometown of Nazareth to the city of Bethlehem, rendering them temporarily homeless. As soon as Jesus was born, Herod’s hostility for the newborn king erupted (reigning kings hate competition), and drove him to murder all newly born baby boys; and the holy family became refugees as they escaped to Egypt.
It is a story of remarkable vulnerability. And of invitation. In the face of hate and fear and raw political power, angels invited shepherds to come to the stable. A star guided some foreign entrepreneurs to the manger scene. Cows mooed, sheep bleated and goats roamed in and out hunting for scraps of food. No doubt some curious townspeople showed up. It is a picture of divine hospitality, where no one had a home but everyone had a place. And all were welcome. The invitation softened the coldness of the world.
That’s how love works. That’s how God works. With risk and vulnerability. Instead of trying to keep haters out, love invites people in. The Christmas story is woven through with the hope that love and invitation and hospitality can melt frozen hearts, open up closed minds and free egos from the need to put someone else down in order to lift oneself up.
We are the inheritors of this audacious story of love and hope. The power of the story emerges out of vulnerability. It is real. And it continues to make a difference.
Let’s use it.