I visited “Occupy Philly” two weeks ago on the day when those who were encamped at Dillworth Plaza were to be evicted. There was much activity going on there because of the uncertainty of how the eviction would take place. Some people were taking down their tents and moving out while others had decided to stay and see what would happen. The United Methodist presence could be seen in the form of an informal worship service and some of our churches provided food and meeting space for the organizers. There were other faith-based groups present as well. I met people who were assisting the many homeless people with bus tokens, counseling, food and money. A good bit of networking was going on among the activists who were present. There were people who were part of organized peace movements, homeless veteran groups, anti-war organizations, and groups that worked with ex-offenders who were homeless. Most of the people there were homeless and had run out of options for life in Philadelphia. The lack of job opportunities, the cutting of social service programs, the displacement of people with mental illness and those who had substance addictions were some of the reasons for this increasing number of people living in extreme poverty. I was glad to see the church present offering support, food, counseling, and political advocacy.
Across the street from Dillworth Plaza was the plaza where annual the Christmas Village is housed. It is a well-decorated, colorfully lit shopping area with vendors selling Christmas greens, gifts and holiday foods. The contrast between the two plazas was sobering. Side by side were affluence and desperate poverty.
Most of us live in both of these worlds, especially at Christmas time. The malls are full-to-overflowing with clothing and housewares and gadgets for sale. There is a joy in giving and enjoying the festivities that is a part of healthy living. Another part of celebrating Christmas is to intentionally live in the Dillworth Plaza and to seek out ways to observe a holy Christmas in the way it was in the beginning. Jesus came to us as homeless, poor, and unnoticed. His family became refugees in Egypt. His ministry was to bring good news to the poor.