Over five decades ago, The Episcopal Church began an advertising campaign with signs that read “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and many parishes displayed these “welcome” signs in their yards and nearby intersections directing visitors to the church. Many parishioners displayed “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” bumper sticker on their cars. But, I’m not sure anyone takes notice of the signs except Episcopalians, and don’t we want more than 1 or 2% of the population to know the Episcopal Church is here for them too. A sign welcoming visitors is good, but I suspect a 55 year old ad campaign effort goes unnoticed by most people today.
As pleasant as the age old “welcoming” yard sign might be, an eye opening sign, that essentially says the same thing, “Aliens and Immigrants Welcome,” may very well be more visible and echo the true meaning of Christmas.
There are many biblical passages that inform us about the behavior, response and inclusion toward aliens and immigrants among us. The alien may simply be a stranger that you may one day come to know as a friend. The alien may be a transient, a person passing through or residing in this place for a short time, or a homeless person or family (Numbers 35:15). Scripture also informs us that the alien is to be treated the same as the orphan and widow. Ephesians 2:12, speaks of an alien as a person having no hope or feeling alienated from Christ (the body of Christ, the church), and like a stranger the alien and immigrant is a citizen of the saints (Ephesians 2:19). And Numbers 9:14, states that any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the Passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the Passover and according to its regulation; as with the Passover, the universal Christian understanding of the Holy Communion as the union with one another in Christ through the sacrament of the Body and Blood. (All passages taken from New Revised Standard Version)
We reflect upon Moses being a resident alien, an immigrant to a new land, a new place. Mary and Joseph were strangers (aliens) in a familiar town seeking welcome and were given straw in a barn to rest and give birth. This season of preparation and Christmas comes once a year as a reminder of good will toward others, and to say we welcome you into our home.
This season of Christmas is a time to welcome new residents, new and visiting worshipers to our community. To welcome immigrants is to welcome new settlers and visitors among us.
Our obligation, as a community of faith, is to be Christ-like. For you and me, that means we are lead by the presence of the Holy Spirit who “leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ” guiding us “into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation” (BCP p.852).
Yes, we could put up a sign that reads, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” but who would notice. A sign that says, “Aliens and Immigrants Welcome” says the very same thing, and I suspect, it will be noticed.
May your Advent be holy, your holidays blessed, and your Christmas merry!