22 December 2008

Christmas Message from the Methodist President

In his Christmas Message, the Revd Stephen Poxon, President of the Methodist Conference, calls for Christmas to be a time of hospitality towards strangers. Stephen highlights the work of local churches amongst asylum seekers and refugees and asks us to consider how welcome we make others feel.

Stephen says; 'This must be at the heart of who we are as church communities. We must become people who continually offer that hospitable space, within ourselves as well as our buildings, for God's love and grace that others may come among us and encounter Immanuel.'

The full text follows:

A night of hospitality

Christmas is the season of parties, family meals and special occasions with friends but it can be exhausting if you are the host all the time. As we listen to the Christmas story once again this year we hear that it was a night of hospitality - but who is the host?

The supernumeraries and their spouses and widows of the North Lancashire District are invited for a Christmas lunch each year. They are so grateful and often say things like ' it's so good of you to host us' but in honesty all we do is provide the space, the food and drink and then it just happens! That may be how the innkeeper rationalised offering the stable area with a manger to the holy family. As the host we'll never know if it was out of warm generosity or just a business transaction that resulted in them being pushed out of the way.

In Britain 100,000's of people come among us year by year from around the world. Many are migrant workers from eastern Europe, bringing their culture, faith and skills whilst others are people fleeing from persecution, war, seeking a better life for their children as asylum seekers and refugees. Time and again we hear that people want to come among us because of our hospitality; of our tolerance; our openness. How welcome do we make others feel?

Many churches are doing remarkable work among asylum seekers and refugees, with the homeless and others who feel on the edge of society. Yet there can often be a fear within us about those who are different and perhaps we might be tempted to want to push them out of the way, into the stable. As we see the landscape of our communities changing with the rich variety of people from across the world we must continue to discover ways to embrace and make everyone welcome, for each is a child of God, created in his own image. For when we meet any one we are meeting the Christ.

There was another hospitality that holy night. In a young frightened girl there is the hospitality of Mary whose willingness to receive the gift of God brings to birth the salvation of the world. We cannot begin to understand the fear, the shame, the bewilderment tinged with anticipation and even hope. Yet out of her 'yes' God became human and lived among us in Jesus…….and since then there have been countless people who have said 'yes' to God…to welcome Christ into their lives…so he may find a resting place, a birthing place to continue God's living presence within the world.

This must be at the heart of who we are as church communities. We must become people who continually offer that hospitable space, within ourselves as well as our buildings, for God's love and grace that others may come among us and encounter Immanuel. We need to welcome all but especially discover ways to welcome the young, many who like Mary are frightened and trying to make sense out of what is happening to them and the world they inhabit.

Yet there is a further host on that holy night. Here is God hosting his own party, the birth of His son, His own coming among us. God, Immanuel, becoming human and living among us in Jesus.

In some of the carol services this year we will find everyone singing the soprano line with no descant and little harmony. We live in a world where there is little harmony with people at war, where people in Britain struggle with the beginnings of recession, where in the wider world there is an increasing poverty gap, people suffering from cholera, AIDS, hunger and countless injustices. As we hear again the song of the angels we catch a glimpse of creation in harmony with the Creator…as a child is born….God come among us.

God the eternal host is giving us a glimpse of eternity, of His Kingdom, where all are one and at peace and in harmony seen in the poverty of shepherds and the riches of magi; in the powerlessness of the secular authority of Herod and in the glory of the vulnerability of the weak and frightened. And in this moment, this holy, eternal moment we hear the eternal host welcome us…

'To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.'

Stephen's message is also available online as an audio file. Click here.

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