On Sunday we had our children’s Christmas play, where they reminded us of a very important Christmas message: All are welcome at the manger. All, meaning everyone.
I hope this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that message. You might know John 3:16 by heart: “God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten son…” Not that God loved a certain people in a certain place – but the whole world! Christ was born for everyone. Everyone should feel welcome at his manger!
Everyone should – but not everyone does.
Too often, the world is like a high school lunchroom.
I can clearly remember what it felt like to walk through the heavy double doors. I can hear the loud rumble of teenagers talking and trays banging and adults trying to maintain control.
I remember what it felt like to stand there, wondering where to go.
Sometimes, my best buddy and I got the same lunch hour. I’d go straight to “our” table and slide into the booth across from her.
Isn’t it great to have a place where you know you belong?
But there were semesters where we had different lunches. I got along with a bunch of other students, but I wasn’t sure if we were really friends-friends. Would they think it was weird if I walked up to their table? Would they want me to sit with them? Or would I be turned away Forrest-Gump-on-the-bus style: “Seat’s taken”? I’d stand in the lunchroom doorway with the social clock ticking, rapidly scanning the faces for a friendly one.
A lot of times, I gave up. I turned around and went back outside to sit on the sidewalk with a few other stragglers.
Aw, what a sad picture of teenage Mary! Looking back with the self-assurance of an adult, I want to tell myself: Those kids liked you! Just go and sit down with them! I know I would have been welcome at most of their tables.
But unless they told me otherwise, I assumed I was not.
When we graduate high school, most of us hope that we leave those awkward feelings behind. Unfortunately, we don’t. The world is full of social cues that send us signals of not-belonging. We see folks who look different, act different, dress different, earn different, talk different… and we get that scared feeling in our gut that says, “If I go over to their table, they’ll turn me away.”
Christ created something different. At Christ’s table, everyone is welcome. Remember how he ate with such an odd and sinful crowd that the religious elite asked him what he was doing?
We are followers of that same Jesus – the one who opened his manger, his table, his life to anyone and everyone. So we are called to live that same way. Starting right here: in church.
At Andrews United Methodist Church, we’re actually pretty good at this. I’ve seen people come and feel at home here who had struggled to feel welcome elsewhere. We’re a welcoming bunch. All are welcome here!
But unless we explicitly tell people that – they might assume otherwise.
Sure, we’re really welcoming in here – but how will people know that? They might look at our big red brick sanctuary and think, “My clothes aren’t nice enough; I wouldn’t know how to act; I don’t have enough money for the offering plate.” We know that none of that stuff matters – not to Jesus, and not to us – but they don’t.
We have to go out there and tell them. We have to personally tell them that they are welcome in Christ’s church.
This is the perfect time of year to do this! It couldn’t be easier. People who never go to church are looking to go to church. So go – invite someone! Invite them Christmas Eve service (ours is at 6pm!). Tell them you’ll meet them outside, or that you’ll save them a seat. Help them know that all are welcome to come to Jesus’ manger, Jesus’ table, Jesus’ life.