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Jesus: the guest and the host

WHEN I was told that the Christmas theme was Hospitality, I thought: “Great, I can write about the hospitality of the innkeeper in the nativity story”.

But then I realised that there is only one account in the Bible of Jesus’ birth and there is no mention of an innkeeper. All we are told is that Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

There is no indication that anyone offered even the simplest hospitality to Jesus’ family.

We enhance the story to make it more tolerable and help us believe that someone must have reached out to that pregnant mother.

It is almost unbearable to think that in Joseph’s ancestral home there was no one to make them welcome.

Fortunately there seem to have been many who offered Jesus hospitality throughout his earthly life.

Why not look and see how many times we are told that Jesus was invited to share a meal? There were even times he invited himself.

In the Iona worship book there is a poem used to invite people to share at the table of the Lord. The poem notes that during his life on earth Jesus was always the guest.

He was an invited guest at a wedding in Cana; in Simon Peter’s home; at the home of Simon the Pharisee; at the home of Zacchaeus; and at the home of Mary and Martha; but at the table of Holy Communion he is the host.

In the Uniting Church we like to think that we have an open table; that all who love Jesus are welcome to come to this table where Christ is the host. However we need to ask ourselves if that is as true as we would like.

Do we enhance our own story to make us feel satisfied about the way we welcome visitors?

Just as Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home, so the church is the ancestral home of all God’s children. Even those who haven’t visited our congregations before are still coming to their own home to be with their Father.

At Christmas time there are hundreds of people who will make that journey to their ancestral home. They will come to our churches to celebrate the birth of Christ; but will they feel welcomed or will they feel like intruders?

I am sure that we have all experienced attempts to welcome us that felt decidedly uncomfortable. I insist on going to church when I am on holidays. My family often finds this particularly unnerving.

“What strange and bizarre rituals will this congregation have for making its visitors feel embarrassed?” they ask.

The effectiveness of our welcome must be measured by the visitor, not the efficiency of our system.

If our great welcoming program just makes people feel embarrassed and more like an outsider than ever, who is being helped?

I encourage church councils and elders to give serious thought and preparation for those who will journey to their ancestral home to meet the Christ child.

Try to remember those times when you felt welcomed in a strange place. I suspect it had more to do with the accepting and open attitude of those you encountered rather than the efficiency of the system.

Encourage the regular members of the congregation to show warmth and acceptance to all who will share this Christmas season with us.

I pray that everyone who shares in the life of our Uniting Church in Queensland will feel at home with Jesus’ family this Christmas.

I wish you all a happy and holy Christmas and as the new year begins I pray that God will richly bless you with his love, grace and forgiveness. May your future be filled with God’s holy presence.