I’m an orphan. Both of my parents are dead. What I miss most is being able to call them when I have good news to share. Even more so I miss being able to “go home” when something is bothering me. The comfort of family plus mom’s dumplings always made things better for me.
This need to go home is encountered in this weekend’s Gospel. When Mary learned she was carrying God’s own son, she was filled with joy and fear. She needed to be in the embrace of home. Christ’s coming among us has created a season that calls everyone to come home.
How is your particular parish family preparing for homecoming? You might notice that some of the Christmas decorations have been put up; perhaps an empty crèche or an unlit tree. You can be sure that many unseen preparations are going on. Poinsettias are arriving, the best altar linens are being washed and ironed, the nativity set is being carefully unpacked and cleaned, and final touches are being put on the music and rituals for the season.
And what will you discover when you attend Liturgy on Christmas? The first will be that the family has grown; many have come home for Christmas. Some visitors may even be unknowingly sitting in “your pew.” This is the day for extreme hospitality. Notice greeters stationed at every door, giving everyone a warm smile and kind words. Ushers will be extra attentive in helping everyone find a place around the table of the Lord. Musicians will take the time to direct people to the particular worship aid or hymnal.
Each of us in the pews also needs to be welcoming. We need to be attentive to people who may not know how things are done in this particular house of God. Offer a worship aid or a quiet word of direction. Watch for the person who seems lost as they look for a restroom or a place to take their crying child. Flu threats may keep some of us from grasping hands at the Sign of Peace, but a warm smile, a nod of the head or looking another in the eyes as you say “Christ’s peace” is always appropriate.
We also need to be careful about what slips from our lips. Jokes abound about “Christers” (those who come to church only on Christmas and Easter), but words like “Well we haven’t seen you here in a long time!” do not welcome the searching heart home. Much as Elizabeth’s infant leapt in joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting may our welcoming words and graciousness toward one another cause hearts to leap with joy during this holy season.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. She has a master’s degree in liturgical studies.