Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Welcoming the Stranger on Christmas Eve...

Well, here we are. The 18th of December. One week until Christmas. The Advent Express train has been gathering a head of steam, racing toward Christmas Eve and our annual celebration of the Birth.

This has been an unsettling Advent for me, the first time in 12 years I was not actively planning the season as a local church pastor. And I have a confession to make (lay folks, change the channel now. Your pastor might not want you to read this next part).

I miss it. I miss the hustle and bustle, I miss the balancing of what Christmas has become in the secular world with what it means to us as a congregation, I miss the controversy over whether it’s OK to pull out our Pilgrim Hymnals so that our generally inclusive congregation can sing the old beloved carols unreformed by gender neutrality, I miss the sometimes snarky discourse over the color of the Advent candles, and…
Whoa. Just had one of those moments. I can’t get this vision out of my head of Flora & Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty standing over an Advent Wreath with their magic wands, “Make it pink!” “Make it blue!”

Whew. Still with me? Here’s the part that you may find surprising. In spite of all the things that conspire to make it hard, I love Advent. And I suspect most pastors do too. And in addition to all the obvious answers to why, here’s my #1 reason.

On Christmas Eve, you have a chance to be with and love people who only enter your sanctuary once a year. It’s your congregation’s opportunity to take marginally attached folk and help them find a spiritual home. It’s a night when you put your best foot forward, not just for yourselves, but for the stranger among you. It’s when you can make the case that your congregation, your United Church of Christ congregation, is a sort of hospital
for the religiously wounded, where no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey, that they are welcome. A place where the spiritual but not religious could find a home. Where the questioner and doubter would be welcomed. Think of your church as the stable. The best accommodations? Perhaps not. But the stable is the one that welcomes the stranger, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.

So, as you finish planning for Christmas Eve, keep these people in mind. Be sure your worship is welcoming, hospitable, that you print the words to every prayer in your bulletin, that you avoid ‘church-speak’ whenever possible, that you present love and acceptance as your chief witness. In Randolph Center we served communion on Christmas Eve. Perhaps that seems out of place to you. But we thought of those who only come on Christmas Eve, or are there for the first time in years, or never before, and we wanted to welcome them to the birth and the table. Jesus’ table.

Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season. God has great things planned for us. I can’t wait.