Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:37-40 (NIV)
Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.
Room in the Inn by Thomas Merton
Arm in arm with our neighbor
’til we all stand free
We Will Make No Peace With Oppression by The Porter’s Gate
Thomas Merton, a monk who tried to stay connected to issues of justice in his own time, wrote a stunning poem about the birth of Christ. It starts with these lines: “Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”
The way Merton describes our world stands out to me. I like to re-imagine the birth of Jesus as a burst of light after many long nights of waiting: surrounded by the lovely beasts, the angels proclaiming the good news first to the lowly shepherds—it is all so idyllic. But what Merton is saying is that Jesus was born into our world of chaos and suffering, a world which would ultimately kill him for daring to say God loved everybody and dreamed for a new way for us to live. A demented inn, indeed.
In my neighborhood, people slap bumper stickers on their trucks that have the outline of the US on them, and in big bold letters it says “Fuck Off, We’re Full.” They drive these trucks around a neighborhood filled with immigrants and refugees, Black neighbors displaced by gentrification, people in poverty struggling to pay rent when they aren’t paid a livable wage. The people who put these stickers on their trucks mean it, I know they do, and whenever I see it, my heart clenches in fear and anger. How are we supposed to ever be happy, peaceful, or content when our actual world is full of people who hate, fear, and demonize other people? When will our actual neighborhoods ever be good news to the poor?
The truth is, our world never has been good news for the people Jesus was obsessed with: the poor, the captive, the unwell, the oppressed. And yet, into this demented inn Christ came. And He continues to come, in the guise of our neighbors seeking shelter from the violence of poverty, trauma, war, immoral and unjust economies, oppression of all kinds. May we see the face of Christ in our suffering neighbors, and may we see our world start to welcome them in small and large ways in our own lifetime. Currently, there is little love for those seeking shelter in our world. But as Merton said, “with those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.” If we continue to reject our neighbors, we will continue to reject Christ, growing lonelier and lonelier while we insist we are full.
D.L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book is The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety and Power.