During Mass this morning, it struck me that as a kid I grew up in a home that never locked its doors. That is, to my knowledge, my parents never insisted on locking the house when we went out for the evening and we certainly didn't lock the doors when we were in the house. Living in a pretty urban area now where we do our due diligence to ensure security protocols are followed, my family's custom (still practiced, I believe) seems so out of place, so naive, so....dangerous.
Over the last few years, I've noticed a significant uptick in the number of commercials advertising security measures for your home and vehicle. You know those commercials: the young woman enters the home, or the mother puts the kids to bed upstairs, when there is the tinkling sound of broken glass as an intruder attempts to enter. Lights go on and the security company is alerted to this incursion and, within minutes, the police arrive. The security system, they would have us believe, will afford us peace-of-mind and a sense of stability in a dangerous world.
The burgeoning security industry points to a sad reality: we do not feel safe. We must protect our "in here" against those "out there." Who exactly are we afraid of? Well, the commercials won't trade on stereotypes but I think I can guess. In a white suburb, like the one I grew up in, I guess people are afraid of black men who are out to steal your goods to buy crack, meth-addicted hillbillies looking to get enough money to assure themselves of another fix, Mexicans, Arabs...basically, anyone who doesn't look quite like us.
Trust no one, suspect everyone. Arm yourself: carry pepper spray and a taser. Lo-jack your car. Beware of strangers because they are out to do you harm. Don't pick up hitchhikers, don't accept candy from strangers, that creepy old man is probably a pedophile, and on and on and on. The world is a hostile place and anyone who tells you otherwise is a naive idiot.
Perhaps I am a naive idiot.
Yet Mary did trust this messenger, believing that the words he spoke - words that were surely too good to be true to her ears - were, indeed, true. The overcame any preoccupation with security and her safety and ventured out into the realm of faith and carried within the Word of God. Her 'yes' becomes for us today the breach of security we are all to avoid while being the only way to let God fully into our lives.
I am left to wonder about our own security systems, those that we use to protect our houses and those we think we are using to protect our hearts. How many times do we look at the stirring in our hearts - a stir of longing, a stir of curiosity, a stir of desire - and expel that intrusive spirit as a disruptive interloper, an unwelcome stranger, rather than a potential guest bearing glad tidings? How easy is it to summon security than to pause for a moment to see who this figure entering out lives really is.
New Year's Day is often a time for making resolutions. I know that, for myself, one of this year's resolutions is to be more welcoming to the Strangers who appear at the threshold far too often and, with chillingly equal regularity, I turn away. My work with vocation promotion gives me courage in this, as I meet many great young men who feel a stirring, a strange longing in their hearts, but turn that stranger away as too threatening, too disturbing. In my own work to help them make space for the Stranger who knocks, I know I need to do this in my own life.
As we enter into this new year, let us christen it the Year of the Stranger. When we feel the knock at the door of our heart, may we resist the urge to pull the alarm, preferring instead to put the kettle on and offer a welcome handshake.