Christmas Message from the Methodist President

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

Stephen says; 'This must be at the heart of who we are as churchcommunities. We must become people who continually offer thathospitable space, within ourselves as well as our buildings, forGod's love and grace that others may come among us and encounterImmanuel.'

The full text follows:

A night of hospitality

Christmas is the season of parties, family meals and specialoccasions with friends but it can be exhausting if you are the hostall the time. As we listen to the Christmas story once again thisyear we hear that it was a night of hospitality - but who is thehost?

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

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

Many churches are doing remarkable work among asylum seekers andrefugees, with the homeless and others who feel on the edge ofsociety. Yet there can often be a fear within us about those whoare different and perhaps we might be tempted to want to push themout of the way, into the stable. As we see the landscape of ourcommunities changing with the rich variety of people from acrossthe world we must continue to discover ways to embrace and makeeveryone welcome, for each is a child of God, created in his ownimage. For when we meet any one we are meeting the Christ.

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

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

Yet there is a further host on that holy night. Here is God hostinghis 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 everyonesinging the soprano line with no descant and little harmony. Welive 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, peoplesuffering from cholera, AIDS, hunger and countless injustices. Aswe hear again the song of the angels we catch a glimpse of creationin harmony with the Creator…as a child is born….God come amongus.

God the eternal host is giving us a glimpse of eternity, of HisKingdom, where all are one and at peace and in harmony seen in thepoverty of shepherds and the riches of magi; in the powerlessnessof the secular authority of Herod and in the glory of thevulnerability of the weak and frightened. And in this moment, thisholy, eternal moment we hear the eternal host welcome us…

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

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