Updated: Aug 15
This past week I heard two stories of different welcomes to Trinity Church. One story was from a new parishioner who told me they felt deeply embraced by this community. The joy, love, and graciousness of our community made them feel welcome and included within our sacred space. The other story was from a member of one of our partner organizations and was quite the opposite. When they arrived at our church, they were treated brusquely, dismissively, and made to feel unwelcome. It is strange to hold the dissonance of these two stories together as I heard both in a time frame of less than twenty-four hours.
Many questions came to me. Why was one welcomed and the other not? Was implicit bias a factor as the second person was a person of color? Did the timing and place of each visit affect how they were received? Why are we good at welcoming strangers at some times and not at others? What is my role as clergy in addressing this?
While pondering these questions, I remembered our current location in the season of Advent. This time when we are preparing to welcome Christ in his historical incarnation, in Christ’s present abiding in us, and in the promised return yet to come. In meditating on the nativity of Christ, I am astounded by who is not there in our stories. Of course, we know of the angels and the shepherds, we think of Joseph and Mary, and we might infer that some people from the bursting at the seams inn and the crowded town may have also been present. But, think of all the people who were not there: priests, religious scholars, prophets, teachers of the faith, and the list could go on. The ones whom we expect to be present at the moment of God becoming human are brazenly absent.
Jesus encounters these people later in his life and ministry and for the most part, they still do not recognize or welcome him. They are his frequent critics and the ones who plot his death. It really is quite scandalous that the ones who should have been the first to recognize and joyfully welcome Jesus are the ones who never do. While I would like to see myself in the reflection of one of the believing shepherds, I imagine that I–and perhaps, many of us–am more properly placed in the camp of the unseeing religious people. We are the possessors of knowledge; the ones who regularly hear the scriptures, sing sacred songs, and delve into the depths of our scriptures. But maybe that is not a great asset. Maybe it is something that can hinder our vision–preclude our welcoming of Christ–just as it did for the faithful two thousand years ago. If God came to us today in the form of a child born in the parking lot of a Motel 6, I am fairly certain that not many devout Christians would be there to welcome with open arms.
While this is an unlikely scenario, Christ continually comes to us in the form of the people who cross our paths, enter our doors, and join with us around our sacred table. We are the corporeal manifestation of Christ in our present time and each person that crosses our path is a person lovingly created in the image of God. Do we recognize Christ in those who are new to us? Do we recognize Christ in the hand raised to knock on our door? Do we recognize Christ in those who are in need? Do we recognize Christ in the unexpected?
This Advent season, I would like to encourage us to more fully welcome Christ in our midst by opening wide our doors to anyone who approaches our threshold. We welcome others not as a part of a growth strategy, but as a way of seeing the reality that God is all around us, that Christ comes to us in unexpected ways, and that being a Christin means always making more room around our table.