The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference have reminded people of the importance of 'welcome' in this year's Presidential Christmas message.
The Rev Steven Wild and Dr Jill Barber highlight the central significance of Emmanuel, 'God-with-us', and how we can encounter God through welcoming others.
The President's message:
Mary and Joseph were not rich people; Jesus was born in a stable. It was a busy time when the census was being taken and this young couple had little resources. I wonder if people saw them as someone I had a conversation with on the train recently did? They described the refugees at Calais as an 'inconvenience'. The kind innkeeper didn't treat this young couple as an inconvenience as others in Bethlehem did, but helped them in their time of need.
Emmanuel, 'God-with-us', is not selective to one particular class or type of person. No one is inconvenient to the God who is with us, His great grace reaches to all people whoever they are.
Jill Barber and I have both been blessed on our overseas journeys by being shown hospitality and care by some very poor people; the depth of care and love has made a profound impression on us.
This year one of our themes is Mission and Heritage. We cannot forget how many of the early Methodists were poor people: little in the bank but rich in faith. John Wesley wrote about social holiness - about being practical in your faith. As shown in the letter from James in the epistles, "faith without deeds is useless" (James 2:20). As early as 1740, not long after his own life-changing experience, John Wesley set out to make collections for the poor, he helped the unemployed, started a lending society, hospital visitations, a people's dispensary. He did all he could to feed and clothe the poor with organisations that seem quaint to us - 'The Female Childbed Linen Society' and 'The Strangers Friend Society'. This has always been part of our Methodist DNA.
The message of Emmanuel, 'God-with-us', is a message people need to hear. I sometimes think that the way my children behaved on Christmas morning is a parable of many people's attitude in society today. They would open lovely presents and then leave the present and start to play with the empty box or the wrapping paper! Many folk today are like that they miss out on the main point of Christmas - Jesus, Emmanuel, 'God-with-us' - and instead get taken up with the wrappings, the busyness, spending and overeating.
At Christmas there are great opportunities for local evangelism. It's such a good time to invite people to worship with you. When I was in Knutsford recently, a lady came to faith who had got into conversation with one of the church ladies at the coffee morning. She'd said that she'd like to come to church and the Methodist lady arranged to pick her up in the car and sit with her in the service. Not all of us have a car but we can all invite someone and sit with them, a way of your church helping to bring someone to faith.
There is an energy in 'Emmanuel'. It is the ever-present God to whom none of us are an inconvenience but are loved and cherished.
The Vice-President's message:
As we've travelled around the Connexion and visited churches and communities in these islands and around the world, we have been welcomed, we have been fed, we have shared stories and we have encountered God in expected and unexpected ways. In the coming days as we once again celebrate the coming of the Christ-child, let us see beyond the wrappings and the tinsel – that can so easily disguise the true meaning and numb our senses – to encounter the one who is Emmanuel, 'God-with-us'.
In that first coming: there were journeys across country and across countries; there was the fearful experience of no welcome, no room; there was the dependence upon the ingenuity and sheer dogged determination of parents-to-be; there was the terrifying escape from tyrants and violence; there was the horror of news of those who didn't or couldn't escape; and there were days on the road heading into another land. This is the experience of our God coming among us and this is the experience of millions of people around the world today, tomorrow and in the coming days.
We have received welcome. Can we now be that prophetic people who seek to offer welcome, to challenge injustice and take steps, however small, to work for justice and peace in our communities and in our world? Part of that will be through generous giving to such things as All We Can: Methodist relief and development, and part of it will be opening hearts and lives to the stranger.
The Enough campaign, launched by the Methodist Church with our partner Churches, calls on the government to ensure that the welfare state holds to its founding principles, and seeks to provide enough for a basic standard of living, so that every family and every child can survive and thrive. It will also involve being that prophetic voice, which can be so unpopular, that speaks out and gives voice to those who either have no voice or whose voice is silent.
As we reminded the Methodist Conference in our addresses we are called to find our voice and be a people of prayer, prophecy, protest and passion so that the Word may become flesh and dwell among us full of grace and truth.
* Click here to listen to the messages in full.
* The Methodist Church in Britain http://www.methodist.org.uk/