On my desk there is a stack of invite cards for our upcoming special worship services. The cards are decked out in a beautiful array of seasonal colors with a wreath on one side. The words on the card strike me as a word of welcome. It says, “A place for you this Christmas.”
A place for you this Christmas. I love that phrase. At its core, the card offers a word of invitation and welcome and hospitality that gets to the heart of what it means to share God’s love. In response to our faith and in celebration of the birth of Jesus, we are called to make room for people so they may experience the hope of the Christ child.
It’s easier to say there is “a place for you this Christmas” in our places of worship. It is another thing, and much difficult, to live it out. To live out that there is “a place for you this Christmas” requires reflection upon what it means to welcome people and to understand that it will mean making our welcome more than just words we place on a card or screen. To truly have “a place for you this Christmas” means making a conscious choice to make room in our hearts for all to experience the hope of Christ.
So, what might that look like? Even more, I wonder what groups of people in our community need to know that there is “a place for you this Christmas.”
Among those might be those who have been hurt by the church. These are people who have been hurt by the church’s infighting and arguments over power and leadership. They have experienced abuse by pastors, church leaders, and others. That pain is real and often hinders someone who has been hurt by the church from stepping back into the church. At the same time, it can influence someone’s relationship with God by wondering how followers of God can be, at times, unloving towards one another.
Living out that there is “a place for you this Christmas” for those who have been hurt by the church may mean to recognize the deep pain they feel. Too often we ignore the hurt that has been caused within the church. Being compassionate and understanding, even going as far as to listen without judgment, the concerns and pain of those who have been hurt by the church goes a long way in making “a place for you this Christmas” become real.
Another group that may need to know that there is “a place for you this Christmas” might be those with special needs. Our Christmas worship services are often full of high sensory elements to share in the joy of the birth of Jesus. These often include special musical elements with brass instruments or bells, the bright lights of decorations, and plays featuring children. While these are all beautiful and special moments of worship and celebration, those with special needs or have issues with sensory processing can easily become overwhelmed by the extra elements. To the point where, just like during regular Sundays, those with special needs may feel unable to fully participate in the communal worship of God.
Living out that there is “a place for you this Christmas” may include being sensitive to families and individuals who may get overwhelmed by the decorations and special elements. It may look like setting up special rooms for people to watch the services in a sensory-friendly environment, so that they may still be part of the service. It may even mean having a special service just for those with special needs to experience the hope of Christ this Christmas.
Those who might need to feel that there is “a place for you this Christmas” are those who have been told they are not welcomed in the church. There are a whole group of people who have been told, either by words or actions, that they are not welcomed. This is painful and not the essence of Christ’s love, which calls us to share the hope and love of God with all people. That group could include people who have experienced a divorce, are single, a couple without children, those with a different political view, those who come out of addiction, those who have been incarcerated, and, sadly, too many others.
Living out that there is “a place for you this Christmas,” here, might mean to remember what Jesus says is the greatest commandment. That is to love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. To make “a place for you this Christmas” become real is to treat people with the same grace and love that we would expect to be extended to ourselves.
Our churches should be a place where we live out what we put out on our campaign flyers. My deepest prayer, this Advent and Christmas season, is that every person will truly feel that there is a place for them this Christmas. As well, that our churches will live out the implications of making room for others in our hearts and lives this Christmas and always.