Over the next few days, most of us will be celebrating Christmas by either travelling to homes of family or friends, or welcoming people into our homes. There are a lot of ways we can welcome people: a handshake or a hug, giving something to eat or drink, exchanging gifts or just sitting, talking and catching up.
Could you imagine what it would be like to turn up somewhere and not be welcomed? How would you react if you arrived somewhere and was told that there’s no room for you, you’re not welcome, and you have to go somewhere else?
One of the ironies of the Christmas story is that when God entered the world as a flesh-and-blood person in the baby Jesus, most people missed the chance to welcome him. We read in Luke 2:1-7 that there was no lodging available for his parents when they arrived at Bethlehem and so their baby had to be placed in a manger, a feed trough for animals. Then, instead of being welcomed to earth by dignitaries, world leaders and important people, the Son of God is welcomed by shepherds (Luke 2:8-20), people who were of doubtful reputation and often shunned by the respectable folk of their culture, and foreigners who had followed the star from the East (Matthew 2:1-12).
God entered the world in a little baby, and most of the world failed to welcome him.
The Apostle John tells us, however, that those who did receive Jesus we able to become children of God (John 1:10-12).
The miracle of the Christmas story is that God didn’t just enter our world as a real, flesh-and-blood person in the baby Jesus all those years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus teaches us that God is still entering the world, and entering our lives, as real, flesh-and-blood people right now.
It amazes me that, after being a pastor for more than twenty years, the Bible is still teaching me new things about God. This year I was preparing a message on Mark 9:36, 37 which reads:
Then (Jesus) put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” (NLT)
I had never noticed before that Jesus teaches us that we welcome God when we welcome the children around us. God comes to us in a special way in our children and grandchildren, just like he came to the world all those years ago in Bethlehem. Maybe God identifies with children because they are trusting. Maybe God chooses to come to us in them because they know what it is like to need to rely on the grace and love of others for the necessities of life. Maybe God makes himself known to us in our children because they still believe in things that, as adults, we have forgotten.
I don’t fully understand why God would choose to make himself known to us in our children, but then again I still don’t fully know why he entered the world as a helpless baby. But that’s the good news we find in Jesus – that God comes to us and makes himself known to us in weakness, in need, in rejection and in helplessness.
This Christmas, as we welcome people into our homes and are welcomed into the homes of others, give thanks for the welcomes we can extend to and receive from others. But please also keep in mind those who don’t find a welcome with others. In particular, remember that as we welcome our little ones, our children and our grandchildren, we also welcome God into our presence, who enters our world and our lives as a child.