It happened when my first child was small. A bundle of beauty at about 7 months old – all the joy of my life. We sat Christmas morning in a family members church – a beautiful building, built in a time when parishioners were expected to sit quietly and mod-cons weren’t included.
My perfect bundle started to wiggle and make noises, and there wasn’t a modern nursing room to retreat to or even an easy retreat, that didn’t involve clanking sounds on wooden floorboards and pushing past people in the narrow row. I sat in that unfamiliar church on Christmas morning feeling uncomfortable, feeling a perceived disapproval from the mainly older congregation.
Then words from the front diverted from the liturgy and planned delivery.
‘Isn’t it nice to have the sounds of Bethlehem in the church this morning.’
and I can’t even write those words without tears filling my eyes 9 years later.
To be so wholly welcomed, so valued, so included when we weren’t the expected demographic in that particular place.
The grace of those words.
The echo of those words speak so deeply into my own heart-beat for the church.
There is room for everyone.
I so want to be the balm of those words to other weary travellers… to people squirming in the seat, to people unsure if there is a space for them, to people who just feel like they don’t fit the demographic.
I think about that first Christmas – the smells, the sounds, the outcasts, the angels…. the sounds of Bethlehem aren’t perfect choirs with hours of practise, amazing stain glassed windows and perfectly vaulted ceiling arches. As much as I love those things, the sounds we are called to first are the mucking in despite the lack of harmony, sticking at it in discord, welcoming whatever odd sounds we might find ourselves surrounded by.
The sounds of Bethlehem are broken, wonder-filled, imperfect people gathering around an unexpected manger at a rescue mission delivered in a tiny little bundle.
It seems to me we could all of us be those grace words today.
Those words that say – I’m glad you’re here, you are welcome.
Let’s be grace words to weary souls today. Let’s be wildly abundant with our love. Let’s be kind and gracious and generous in our welcome even if it disrupts our plans.