The holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s – is a wonderful time of getting together with family, friends, and colleagues. It can also be a significant step in a relationship. It may be the first time to meet the other important people in the life of your significant other. She may take you to meet the extended family, or you may be required to bring her to the special family dinner. Either way, there can be some anxious moments.
Being the youngest grandchild in a large extended family, I watched various cousins bring girlfriends and boyfriends to the family gathering. There were some who did not come until they married into the family, but there were others who came before the “I dos” were done. One cousin and her now husband come to mind. My cousin, Diane, did not live locally, so no one knew the significant man in her life. Christmas was the family’s opportunity to meet and/or interrogate him. Amidst the hustle and bustle that would accompany Christmas gatherings, they arrived. He had a full beard just like my dad. My grandmother had trouble seeing, but when they arrived she tottered over to him. She reached up from her 4’10” height to pull on his beard. Everyone laughed and gasped. They were convinced that grandmother was confused. She must have thought this was her son, my dad. She certainly would not pull a total stranger’s beard. She said nothing.
Later she told me privately that she knew he was too tall to be my dad. She just wanted to get a good look at him. In her own way she had brought him into the family circle. She had brought him close. The ice had been broken, and he was welcomed with open arms.
I wonder if we there are things we do to make people feel more accepted and welcomed? Do we tug on beards or otherwise let others know that they are welcome? Do we slide over in our pew so that someone unfamiliar may have the end seat? Do we stoop down to speak with children so that we are on their eye level? Do we treat the new and unfamiliar folks as a part of the family? In these potentially anxious moments of meeting the family and friends, let us try to find ways to welcome the stranger in our midst. It may be that this happens in our family. It may be that this happens in our church. It may be that the stranger is always in our midst. Welcome them as you would welcome Christ.