During these weeks of Advent and the days of Christmas that follow, we will be speaking and hearing a familiar word over and over: “Welcome!” During these festive times, we will be opening our homes to receive family members, friends, co-workers and strangers as our guests for gatherings and parties. Whenever we receive guests and visitors, we open the door, we greet them and welcome them into our homes, our places of business, all the places where life takes us. During these holy times, we will welcome guests with excitement–perhaps it’s been some time since we last saw them. There will be hugs and handshakes, kisses and pats on the back. As we invite our guests in, we encourage them to rest a while. We likely will offer refreshments and snacks. Perhaps a meal will be shared. As all this is taking place, stories are shared–stories of life and love. These are all actions that speak of welcome.

Even when the situation is reversed, and we are the visitor or guest, all of the same actions will likely be repeated: words of welcome will be spoken; greetings of friendship and affection will be shared; there will be encouragement to enter into a home, to enter into a life; stories and memories will be recalled and savored; there will be refreshments and perhaps even a meal. These are all actions that speak of being welcomed.

As we prepare for the great feast of Christmas, we will gather and rejoice as we welcome the Christ-child in many of the same ways. Hopefully there will be warm greetings at the doors of the church and we will be made to feel welcome in our parish home during one of the busiest and most beautiful times of the year. That sense of welcome should be especially evident as we make room for those who are not a regular part of our parish communities–those whom we may see only at Christmas or Easter. To me it makes no sense to grumble or to become frustrated when the church might be standing room only and the parking lot is filled and overflowing. Perhaps warmer welcome might make this happen on a more frequent basis, for it is in the act of offering warm welcome that we can be the face of Christ to a sister or brother who may feel separated or distant from the community of the Church at other times of the year.

As we welcome one another and the Christ-child at Christmas, we might easily overlook another welcome that is taking place: Christ welcomes us! He welcomes us to enter into his life more deeply--a life of simplicity, vulnerability, peace and heavenly joy. He welcomes us into his kingdom, where our struggles, questions, and even doubts can find meaning, answers and quiet assurance. As Christ welcomes us into his kingdom, he encourages us to join with him in the struggle for peace, to work with him for justice, to partner with him to put an end to violence and banish war. In the quiet Christmas greeting of humanity by divinity, we find healing, strength, mercy and forgiveness--virtual impossibilities if we do not permit the Christ-child to greet us, to welcome us, to guide us into a holy encounter between God and the human race. Welcome!

And so, our journey in FAITH continues.