I remember Christmas worship as a child, squeezing in beside my grandpa in pews designed for slightly fewer people. I recall comprehensive Christmas meals over the years with family and friends, as tasks were delegated so that the meal could be celebrated in all its glory, with even lounge chairs conscripted around the table and every fan on full.
I also recall the moment of uncertainty as new faces joined the table, invited because they were new in town, or to our family, or simply were in need of a welcome. The moment was only that, ameliorated by hospitality and Christmas pudding.
It’s not always easy to find space for new traditions. “We’ve always done it this way” is the catch cry for present openings, or whether the pudding has coins in it. As families grow, and shrink, and change, we discover that seafood actually can be as enjoyable as turkey, or that there have been decent carols written since the composer of ‘Away in a Manger’ stopped Jesus crying.
It’s not easy, but it is necessary.
We are invited into the astonishing Christmas story of God breaking into our world, but as the story grows in the gospel accounts, it almost appears that there might not be enough room. Whether the risk of Mary’s pregnancy, the No Vacancy sign at the Bethlehem local, or the rush into Egypt, the presence of Jesus in the world does not have an easy beginning.
There are echoes of this throughout the gospels, as Jesus is welcomed conditionally, or refused, by a number of people. The echoes grow louder as the shadow of the cross looms larger.
The last gospel reading before Advent reminds us that Jesus is present in the least likely – stranger, prisoner, hungry, destitute – so much so, that “Emmanuel, God With Us” becomes comprehensively profound, and not simply a Christmas hashtag.
Taking Jesus at his word, what does it mean to make room for him, when it is uncomfortable, even unpleasant? This question is asked of us in scripture, it is asked of us in the community of which are a part, and it is asked of us each time we hear the declaration of forgiveness, share Christ’s peace and break bread together.
This question begs larger ones of our discipleship. What does it mean for us to make room when we consider those whose lives, as I write this, are circumscribed by detention on Manus Island and Nauru, because they sought life for themselves and their family? What room can we offer those indigenous leaders and communities who sought to have their voices heard – when asked – and were refused? What is asked of us in the light of our nation’s comprehensive ‘Yes’ vote in the Same Sex Marriage postal survey?
In the humanity of Jesus, all humanity – all flesh – finds its worth.
We are the Uniting Church, formed for hospitality, by the embrace of God. We joined others at our creation, and have sought a more complete union ever since. We embrace different cultures, different worship and wrestle with the implications of looking and listening beyond ourselves.
How might we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or who are brushed aside? How can we welcome those whose value is dismissed, or demeaned?
When I consider our Church, and look at how we worship, witness and serve, I experience great hope. And when I consider what is possible if we open ourselves even more to the Spirit of God, then I am unnerved – wonderfully – at where God might lead us.
Shall we make room, commencing this Advent and Christmas, for the newness of God?
The traditional evangelistic question is whether we have invited Jesus into our hearts. Christmas declares something entirely more wonderful. The birth of Jesus is the declaration that God has indeed invited each and all of us into God’s own heart.
God has declared us welcome.