As 2018 draws to a close and the season of Advent prepares us for Christmas, it is natural to look back over the year that has been and forward to 2019 and a new challenge.
‘Generations Together’ was our theme for 2018. Launched in February in the Cathedral, we used Prayer Spaces as a wonderfully effective way of bringing together different generations. I have been delighted with the diverse ways that our Anglican family in Southern Queensland has engaged with ‘Generations Together’ during 2018. Parishes have held all-age worship services. Schools have engaged students with older people. The clergy and lay conferences focused on intergenerational ministry in a digital age with guest speaker John Roberto. As we head into Christmas and the New Year I encourage everyone to continue engaging across the generations with creativity and energy.
During the Christmas season multiple generations often come together. Sometimes these interactions are joyful and positive, but they can also bring sadness, tension and conflict. As we interact across the generations this Christmas, the theme for 2019 might help us. 2019 will be the year of ‘Generous Hospitality’.
The idea of hospitality, or welcome, is central to the Christian faith.
The Incarnation affirms that God is with us, and embraces us. Christmas marks an act of radical and generous hospitality on God’s behalf. In Christ, God comes to be with us, face to face. To be born with us, to live with us, to eat with us, to share our struggles with us – to be one of us.
In His life, Jesus’ radical welcome of people was striking because of His willingness to sit at the table and eat with the outcasts and marginalised. His welcome included all and that hospitality extends to each of us today.
Early church followers took Jesus’ example of hospitality seriously. They were renowned for it. The breaking of social barriers in the early centuries attracted attention and comment. Their generous hospitality transformed the lives of so many on the fringe of society. These early Christians realised that if God is willing to be present with us in such an intimate and radical way and to welcome us to His table, who are we to exclude anyone?
The way of Jesus calls us to see one another as sisters and brothers who are welcome. This is not a begrudging welcome. It is meant to be enthusiastic, generous, sincere and warm. Not only are we called to be good hosts and to welcome those who are different, we are also to be good guests; to receive welcome and hospitality as much as we give it.
Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate God’s generous hospitality and to practise it with others – to be good hosts and guest, to be generous in our thinking and our actions towards those around us. It might also be the time to ask who has no table or welcome and to extend ours.
As we enter 2019, like the early church we can be disruptors of all that separates people from one another and denies that we are all children of the one God. This is more important today than ever before in a world torn apart by all sorts of divisions and exclusions.
Across social media people separate themselves into tribes of the like-minded, to push away those people whose ideas we find challenging. We often don’t get the opportunity to really understand one another or to develop empathy.
We are deeply enriched when we open ourselves to welcoming others and learning from them. We are greatly diminished when we don’t.
During 2019 let us seek ways to be generous in hospitality and welcome.
This means not only being nice to people like ourselves. It also involves seeking out those who might be different or who we might find difficult and ‘eating with them’.
We will launch the year of ‘Generous Hospitality’ at the Cathedral on Friday 15 February 2019. The gathering will be suitable for all ages, including children, and will include enjoying food together, in keeping with the year’s theme and in the spirit of the early church. Information about the launch event can be found on Facebook.
In the meantime, I pray that you have a joy-filled Christmas, that Christ is present to you in a deeper way and that you may grow in your awareness of God’s generous hospitality.