December 18 - Nativity in Tent City

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reflection by Ann Henderson, Iliff M.Div '17

“Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God”
— 1 John 3:17
“Learn to do right. See that justice is done — help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”
— Isaiah 1:17

Mary and Joseph were two people who suffered from oppression and judgement.  Jesus himself was born into oppression.  This isn’t part of the story that is talked about because many want to keep the Nativity story more of a magical one.  However, the truth is, no one cared that Mary was pregnant and needed a place to give birth.  Mary and Joseph had traveled far enough that it was obvious to the town of Bethlehem that they were outsiders.  Whether it be the simplistic clothes that they wore, or differences of their physical bodies- they were clearly looked down upon.  The people of the city of Bethlehem treated Mary and Joseph with injustice because they were different.  The true magic of this story is that God knew exactly what she was doing when deciding to place Jesus in the womb of Mary.  The Lord knew that Mary was a simple woman with no high social status or class.  It was no coincidence that the son of God was born into a state of oppression.  God knew, based on their hearts, that Mary and Joseph were people that truly loved. 

Recently, the city of Denver passed a law that said it is illegal to make camp outside on the streets.  In other words, the city of Denver has claimed that ‘it is illegal to be homeless’.  As if having to live outside weren’t hard enough, now life has become more difficult for people without a home.  Due to this new legislation, Denver police are taking away blankets, sleeping bags, tents, etc. from people who are ‘breaking the law’.  They are taking away the little that these men and women have in a state of ridicule and further oppression.  If God specifically chose a couple who dealt with oppression and injustice face-to-face on a regular basis, why can’t the city of Denver view persons without homes in that same meaningful way?  

Can you claim to be a Christian if your words are empty?  Is it enough to hope for persons to find warmth, food and shelter if you are not willing to give it to them?  Are you just as bad as the city of Bethlehem to bypass an expectant mother in need?  When you see a man, woman or child asking for food do you pretend you do not see them? Or do you think ‘I have nothing to give them’?  The truth is, there is always something that can be given.  The truth is, they are my brother and my sister.  The truth is, they are loved by God.  They are oppressed and struggling or else they would not be out in rough conditions for all to see.  Regardless of the doubt that may come into your mind when you see a person with a cardboard sign, know that it will always be right in the eyes of God to help, give and defend!  If we changed our perspective and viewed every person living without a home, or without food, or on the margins, or with oppression, as Mary expectant with Jesus we would treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

About Ann

Ann Henderson is an M.Div student at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. Ann is recognized as one of the New Faces of Ministry: 2016. To learn more about Ann, view her New Faces of Ministry profile.

About Iliff

Located in beautiful Denver, Colorado, Iliff School of Theology offers a number of degree programs that integrate faith and service, including the Masters of Divinity, Master of Arts in Social Justice and Ethics (MASJE), and Master of Arts in Pastoral and Spiritual Care.

Iliff is recognized as one of this year's Seminaries that Change the World. To learn more about Iliff and it's programs, visit their website at, or view Iliff's Seminaries that Change the World Profile.