December 2018 - From the Pastor's Desk
Welcoming the Christmas Guest
It’s that time of year when we can expect company in our homes – family and friends may come from near and far to stay with us over the holidays. The reverse might also be true: we may be guests in someone else’s home over the Christmas season. There is a difference between guests and visitors. Guests are people for whom we are preparing and whose arrival we anticipate. We look forward to their presence with us. Visitors, on the other hand, are people for whom we are not prepared, and whose arrival we don’t anticipate. We may not look forward to their presence with us. The distinction between the two is an important one. Think of the guest in terms of a beloved family member or friend whose coming is a joy. Think of the visitor as someone who comes by unannounced while you’re busy doing something. We’re ready for the guest, whose presence we welcome. We’re not ready for the visitor, whose presence is an intrusion. Do you see the difference?
In our homes, as well as our congregation, we want to be ready and prepared to welcome guests, not as unwanted visitors, but as people whom we’ve been expecting and planning for. Think of the guest parking spaces in our church parking lot. The signs state: “Welcome! We’ve been expecting you!” I believe these individuals come to us by divine appointment, not by accident. In other words, God has brought them to us. If this is true (and it is), what are we doing to prepare for their coming? How will we welcome them, especially at this time of year when many individuals are open and receptive to coming to church, maybe for the first time?
Here are some things each one of us can do to welcome the Christmas guest at St. John’s:
- Pray. Begin and continue with prayer, asking the Lord to use you in a way that will be a blessing to that new person who is looking for a place to belong; who is seeking Christ.
- Look for the guest. When we come to church, there is a tendency to focus on our own needs: greeting that person we haven’t seen for awhile, or thinking we have to see so-and-so to talk about such-and-such. I would challenge each one of us to focus on the needs of the Christmas guest. Seek out that unfamiliar face and make it a point to connect with him or her.
- Break the ice. Not everyone is comfortable in talking with people we don’t know. However, for someone to walk in cold to an unfamiliar church for the first time takes a lot of courage! If you see someone you don’t know – that person who looks kind of lost or uncertain, break the ice with this individual. Step up with a warm smile on your face, put out your hand, and say: “I don’t think I’ve met you before. My name is ________. Who are you?” It’s true that we run the risk of meeting people who’ve been members of our congregation for 30 years, but just didn’t know them. However, that’s still someone we didn’t know before. Take the risk!
- Find out if there are any special needs. Oftentimes people are drawn to church because of a pressing need or even a crisis in their life. This is especially true around the holidays. It can be a very emotional time of year for many. You may not be in a position to address their need, but you may be able to direct them to someone who can. And you will have listened. All of this can begin with something like: “I’m glad you found our congregation. Is there anything I can help you with?”
- Build relationships. Invite this person to sit with you during the worship service. Look for ways to connect with this new person, not just at the time of the service but afterward also. Be Christ to your neighbor!
Why go to all of this trouble? We do this because Jesus came into our broken and sin-shattered world as the first Christmas Guest. On that first Christmas no one was expecting Joseph and Mary, who was great with child. They finally found a place in a stable where Jesus was born. Jesus, the first Christmas Guest, did not remain aloof and apart from our suffering and pain, but entered fully into our human experience in order to rescue and redeem us from sin, death, and condemnation. Jesus who loves us and laid down his life for us now calls us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34-35). Loving one another means welcoming the Christmas guest into our midst, receiving each person as we would receive and welcome the Lord Jesus himself.
May our celebration of Jesus, the first Christmas Guest, be filled with great joy. And may our hearts be ready to welcome the Christmas guests whom Jesus sends to us.