“Away in a manager, no crib for a bed.” The beloved Christmas hymn came vividly alive to me one Advent when I asked a little girl, “How did you sleep?” “Great!” she exclaimed, “It was sooo good to have my own bed!” She went on to tell me how difficult it had been to sleep with several of her siblings beside her. One sister, she complained, “elbowed me every night!” This little girl had just spent her first night in a Sunday school room in the church. I had been in the room across the hall from her. We’d just sat down to breakfast when I asked her how she’d slept and got her enthusiastic reply.
She did indeed have her own bed, even if her entire family was still in one room. The classroom was better than the cheap hotel room where she’d been living previously. She would stay for a week in our church and then move on to another for the duration of her family’s stay in this ministry designed to move families out of homelessness and into permanent housing.
Her delight over her own bed made me grateful that when we started this ministry we went with the rollaway beds, the sturdy ones with decent mattresses, rather than the air mattresses we’d considered. The beds were bulkier, required a trailer to move from church to church, and were awkward to set up and break down. They were more expensive to purchase and that had been a worry given that we were just getting this program started and money was tight.
A committee (!) was tasked with helping us make an informed decision. Research was done. Pros and cons listed. Debate ensued, but ultimately we bought beds. A persuasive voice in the group said that if we were a ministry of hospitality, then beds were the only possible choice. How was an air mattress hospitable? Families would be sleeping on them for weeks, maybe a month or more. Would we want to sleep on an air mattress that long? The decision shouldn’t be about our convenience, but about our guests’ comfort.
The morning when that little girl delighted in her own bed, I was thankful we listened to the woman who pushed us on the true meaning of hospitality. I think of that little girl, and so many others, when I hear the story of the Holy Family with no place to sleep, no crib for a bed, no room in the inn. Every Christmas I think about that little girl and I remember the Christian call to hospitality, creating warm, inviting, safe, comfortable space for those with no crib for a bed.
I think about the years of work it took to get that ministry off the ground, the months and months of meetings, the countless presentations, the fundraising, the recruiting of host congregations, the less than friendly meeting with some city zoning officials, the eager volunteers and the suspicious neighbors and I think: I would do it all again. I would do it again because that little girl had her own bed and I had the gift of seeing her joy the morning after the first night she slept in it.
Many people made that moment happen. That’s the other gift I receive when I remember her. I recall with thanksgiving all of the faithful men and women who attended those meetings and asked businesses for donations and wrote checks and researched rollaway beds. I give thanks for the men’s group that put those beds together and the youth group that loaded them on the trailer. I rejoice at the members of the laundry team who washed the sheets and the women’s circle who made the beds and fluffed the pillows. That one bed for that one girl was facilitated by the large household of God.
As Christmas gets closer I think about the Holy Family, huddled in a stable because there was no room in the inn. I also remember the little girl thrilled with a bed of her own and I thank God for the faithful followers of the One with no crib for a bed, who made it possible.
Grace and peace,