But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”
Luke 1:30-31 (NIV)
First Congregational Church was aglow with twinkling lights and the sanctuary was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Carols emanated from the organ and families cheerfully greeted one another, filling the pews for the Christmas Eve service. My husband and I, visitors to the church, spotted seats in a pew near the front and our pew mates smiled welcomingly. As we settled in, I struggled with the discomfort of my 35-week pregnancy. I was expectant with our first son, in a new place, surrounded by new people, taking up room that would soon be scarce. It was my first Christmas away from family and my hometown church where my dad was senior pastor. I felt like a cumbersome stranger amidst an excited congregation.
The service featured the scriptures I knew by heart—a young Mary visited by the angel Gabriel, telling her she would bear the Son of God. She was afraid of the news for she knew the laws of her religion could exile her. Yet, she opened her heart and trusted God. Then the scripture reading moved to Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. As I thought of the heavily pregnant Mary, I shifted in my pew, wondering if she was uncomfortable sitting on the back of a donkey. I knew she was separated from her family, just as I was, with her husband in a new and different place. I was a heavily pregnant stranger in this church’s pew, and I felt connected to Mary and Joseph’s story in a new way. Mary had faith God would lead her to where she belonged. I prayed God had led me to where I belonged.
The story of Mary and Joseph guides us to be as welcoming as Mary and Joseph were with very difficult circumstances, new challenges, even strangers. Both Mary and Joseph were guided by their faith. By listening to God and trusting Him, they were called to open their hearts.
On that Christmas Eve night, I discovered that my husband and I were welcome. God had led us to a new faith family who met us where we were on our journey, welcomed us with open hearts, and made room for us in the pews.