I was putting together a Christmas Bingo game for my students before the holiday and one of the questions was, "How many Kings were there"? Obviously the answer was 'three'. Or so I thought. According to my sources, no where in scripture do we read that there were three Kings. In looking at the Gospel this weekend, Matthew simply states that 'magi from the East arrived'. Perhaps it is because it is said they brought those famous three gifts that we arrived at the artists interpretation of three kings.
In any case, when we look at the traditional creche scene we always see three kings of different ethnicites. I always thought that was cool as a kid, because that was probably one of the few times I actually saw people who looked different from me. My hometown on LI was pretty much a place where we all looked the same.
I reflect now on how much I love ministering in a city parish. There are so many different types of people here and very few look like me! They are younger, some older, different nationalities, personalities...use whatever image you like...melting pot, fruitcake, the differences are beautiful! I feel safe within the diversity. I feel safe within my church family.
Sometimes, when I'm outside the boundaries of my church, on the busy streets of NYC, I don't always feel that same sense of safety or being at home. Sometimes when I see folks who dress or look differently from me, I sort of feel a little nervous. I'm not sure why...other than having to admit some level of ignorance on my part. I have come to understand I'm comfortable with folks who think like me...even if they don't look like me. It's when I don't understand where another is coming from that I can get uneasy.
Today in the church we celebrate Three Kings, and this month in our country we will see a new president move into the White House. When I put these two things together I am struck by the question how well do I, do we, welcome others when they are different from us? I'm trying not to cringe.
At St Francis we often hear how well visitors are welcomed when they join us for worship. We have a right to be proud of the hospitality we offer, but also need to challenge ourselves to look beyond the church folk and think about how well we will welcome the person off the street who hasn't been to church in years. The young person who has been hurt by the church. The older person who is carrying around bitter memories from years past. How well can we make them feel at home? That's our challenge I think in 2017. Welcome the new person to your group!
For me, I need to figure out a way to feel more comfortable with those folks who think and do things differently from me. I need to stop thinking my way is the only right way. I must admit it seems like an insurmountable task as I write this. But I am grateful at least for my desire to somehow try and be more welcoming with those who think and believe differently from me.
May God give us the wisdom and grace to be open to welcoming the stranger in 2017.