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Christmas in the 74126 in 2013

This time it was an older woman, her first time in our community center I believe, who had mingled into the crowd that had braved the ice and cold to come to our annual Christmas Meal and Party (the first of two we held this past weekend because of the weather; instead of cancelling, we expanded); she had come into the warmth of our place, just for food she'd hard about, and ended up meeting others, singing, eating, watching the children's faces light up when Santa arrived;
She had come in past the lack of decorations along North Peoria which at this time of year is so dark here, so few street lights, lack of sidewalks driving people walking to the store and to us to have to walk in the street itself, and she had seen our old abandoned and vandelized church building being repurposed into a community center because we had put up a modicum of decorations and lights outside and a big tree;
And we had decorated again the community welcome sign and the evergreen at the arch at Cherokee School that had been closed three years ago, and ever since we have continued to decorate and light it up at this time of the year for the community passing by, just as the school system had done when it had used it as a school; and we this year began decorating the gardenpark and orchard we created for the community from a block of homes that had been abandoned and burned and neglected.
She came up to me at the end of the Christmas Party, and almost just like the four year old who had done so a year ago, she needed to hug me and say what an amazing day it had been here for her; she had come for food, heard about the party and stayed, and was in tears by how much it meant to her; it would be her Christmas with others this year.
There are so many pressing issues and problems that we engage with all the rest of the times during the year: the latest is the news about another abandonment here in our community (school, post office, businesses, now the possibility of closing the pool at O'Brien Park Recreation Center--instead of trying to rally forces to get the funds to improve it and get it used more often); the low income, the low life expectancy, all of the data that documents the struggles people have in our neighborhoods (see the stories The abandoned houses, the still vacant school building, the neglected properties, the fragmentation of the schools and no community infrastructure and gathering and organizing places as people drift further and further apart from one another living right around them. Our semester's work this semester with another group of graduate students from OU partnering in service learning with us further documented how many students in the same neighborhood go to so many different schools so they have none of the traditional ways for families to meet and organize and have common ground and purpose.
And yet, though we will work on all those issues all the other times of the year; as that is how we find and define our purpose as a people of faith coming together for others, this time of the year we find fulfillment, and joy, and peace, and hope, and the love that endures all the fragmentation, we find it all in the way one person exemplifies the many who find their moments of connection here. This is the time of year when we rest in the way that we are surprised by the help of others, and are so grateful for all the support we have received from you all during the year. This is the time when it only matters that something is born.
We say each year that Christmas begins, not ends, Dec. 25. There is a season beyond the day’s furious activity; an alternative rhythm of celebration that the church offers to us that shows up the paleness of the commercial marketplace Christmas. Christmas is about what happens when the angels leave, when the spectacular is over (even when the spectacular struggles can be set aside).  We have decisions to make about what roads we will take, what kind of new year we are moving toward; where are the Bethlehems in our lives and communities that we need to go witness holiness where others would see despair and desperation? Year after year we have the Christmas story “made known to us” and never know how the story will find us; this time in the quick embrace and story of one older woman; and yet how often do we leave our comfortable fields and the people who are like us and find ways to discover the mangers, and the resident aliens, waiting for us too.
Matthew 2:23 says: “There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
The new book, Zealot, by Reza Aslan paints a good realistic picture of the historical Nazareth, the small marginal town, the fragile community bearing the oppressive violence of the Roman Empire, suffering from the sprawl of the construction of nearby cosmopolitan Sephorris, encroaching the peasant’s land, driving them into insecurity and subsistence living. In Nazareth, Aslan says, it is the opposite of the city built for an Emperor, there are no public roads, no public buildings. There is a single well for all hundred or so families. At the time it does not exist on a map. Aslan says that the name of Jesus was such a common name, that it is the name of the town, so striking in its obscurity, that is linked to this particular Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, Nazareth is the main thing about Jesus’ birth to many of the early followers, as only Luke and Matthew dwell on the birth narratives. Nazareth, “where nothing good can come from” is not only home to Jesus but it indicates the kind of prophet, Messiah, that he is, a scandalous one. Aslan says there is little in Nazareth for a woodworker to do, so it is a place where even a craftsman would be marginalized, accentuating the powerlessness of anyone calling this place home.
For those of us in a faith community and tradition that lives on the margins of society and of theological and cultural worlds, simultaneously deep within a Christian sphere and walking together with those of other spheres, and with those who have been left behind by the American Dream and so turn to God's Dream, and those of us who live in a story that calls us to remember we are at heart a marginal people and move toward the margins to be with others, the Christmas story of the birth of “The Nazorean” should feel like home to us too. Like the older woman who came to us, and revealed Christmas to us, we come to the story again and again year after year and it is home to us. 
Here is how we keep Christmas going; you are invited to come help with us:
On Sat. Jan. 4 from 10 am to Noon the Food Store will be open again, and then each Wednesday and Saturday.
On Sundays from Jan. 5, Meal and videos and prayers and conversation on Justice for the poor here at The Welcome Table,5920 N. Owasso Ave.
Each Second Wednesday, this month Jan. 8, 10:30 am bingo and noon potluck lunch at Turley United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave. across from our gardenpark and orchard.
Usually First Thursdays but this month, on the Second Thursday because of New Years activities, Jan. 9 at noon lunch and areawide planning for the McLain and Turley neighborhoods here at the Welcome Table.
Second Saturdays, Jan. 11, 8 to 10 am, the community breakfast at the Odd Fellows Lodge, 6227 N. Quincy Ave.
Each Third Wednesday, this month Jan. 15, our new Turley Area Seniors, Inc. lunch and planning, here at the Welcome Table. For those 55 and over and their family and friends.
This month come help us during another of our wonderful Mobile Food Truck giveaway days with the Food Bank, here at the Welcome Table, come 9;30 am to volunteer sorting food and preparing on Friday, Jan. 17 and then help us load food into neighbors cars from 11 am to Noonwhen we give out some four to six or more tons of food in one hour. Free lunch for volunteers afterwards as well.
A Special Monday, Jan. 20 event, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as we hold a service project in honor of Dr. King and then have a party for all to watch the local parade on television. We will be here and on the community service project of reconciliation from 9 am to noon
The last Tuesdays of each month, this timeJan. 28, 7 pm. the Turley public townhall and community association meeting will be held at O'Brien Park, 6147 N. Birmingham Ave.
During January we will also host groups fromWichita, KS and from Fayetteville AR coming to work with us and learn with us how to engage in anti-poverty neighborhood and lives renewal missional church and community work.

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