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Life Chez Dee Episode #77: Ways and means through advent

And so tonight was the fifth and final session in the advent series of discussions I’ve been a part of, with tonight’s topic being on “Ways and Means”.

Tonight we thought about the innkeeper, who offers hospitality to Mary and Joseph, and we think about how much we ourselves want to offer hospitality and have purpose. We think about then, how the innkeeper must have felt about having no rooms available to offer, but wanting to help and offering what he could; and today how we feel the frustrations of being unable to offer hospitality in the way we once knew, looking for new ways to be able to show this.

We think about how things may not always be how we want them to be, we have had to adapt to new ways of working and doing things, but at least we are able to still do something. We can no longer welcome people into our homes, and so we feel the loss of hospitality. We now meet with others virtually, which may not feel as personal or even that pleasing, yet the sentiment and being there is real; or we may knock on the doors of others, to offer assistance, or friendship, or gifts, and yet does the act of the other person opening the door, reverse the role of who is offering hospitality … are they then the host and us the guest?

Our discussions turn to imagining how the innkeeper felt on meeting the shepherds and hearing their story that night. The innkeeper showed hospitality to Mary and Joseph by offering up a stable as shelter for them, and he did this without being aware of the significance of who he had helped. Was it indeed the innkeeper who offered help, or was it the influence of his wife, who persuaded him to offer help and assistance to Mary, seeing how desperate and in need they were, having undertaken such a long journey, with the baby due imminently.

The innkeeper probably felt rather proud that he had played a part in this special story. He had offered help to those who needed it, and reached out to help in a way he was able to. I couldn’t help but think about how we like to help those in need, but my thoughts go to whether unconscious bias plays a part in showing hospitality to some and not others. We know for a fact that in life, although it is advocated all men are equal, we know that some appear more equal than others. Celebrities, and other influential people do seem to trump others when it comes to receiving attention, priority, favours. So too are they praised and rewarded for the help and assistance they have given, whilst others who regularly help others are overlooked (not that they seek to be acknowledged or rewarded I hasten to add). I like to think that most people would help anyone in need; wouldn’t have a hidden agenda; wouldn’t judge; and wouldn’t be swayed by who that person was.

Many TV dramas make Christmas specials, with references in the storyline to the nativity story. There’s usually a heavily pregnant woman, who ends us relying on the hospitality and support of others. Maybe it is a policeman or a taxi driver who is the one to offer the help and assistance needed, and the story has a happy ending with the baby being named after the person who has helped them. How different the story would have been if Jesus had been named after the innkeeper.

We then turn our thoughts to the creation of the innkeeper’s character. The gospels don’t mention the innkeeper at all, only that there were no lodgings available. How interesting it is that this significant character part was actually created to illustrate the story. We must be mindful that stories back then, were passed on to each other orally, and as such changed over time. By the time the story was written down, it had been told over and over, and therefore facts change, and interpretation changes. We know that even if we all witness the same event, each of us will see and remember something different, and we must bear this in mind when we read the writings and accounts of different people, and the gospels are indeed no different.

We look to how the church can creatively reach out and offer hospitality to its own, and the wider community, despite, and because of, the pandemic, and how it can communicate the Good news this Christmas.

We think about how technology has allowed us to reach out to many in the community, and even the wider community who are at some distance, or who are unable or not wanting to attend church in person. We also think about how good it has been to actually go out and visit people in the community, and we think about how if those people were to come to church, the church would offer hospitality, and yet visit to someone’s home means so much, it is personal; it is special; and by not being able to welcome people into the church, the church members have been forced to go out and extend their hospitality this way.

Taking a moment I stop to think about those in our hospitality industry, particularly those here on the Fylde Coast, who rely so much on tourism for their businesses and their livelihood. This is what they know; this is what they do. Not being able to welcome people as guests in their establishments, has hit them hard, emotionally and financially. The hospitality industry has been forced to close for many, many weeks and not all have been able to endure this loss of income, and been forced into closure. We don’t know when these businesses will be allowed to open, and indeed even if they are, whether the public want to travel here, or stay safe at home. There’s a knock on effect of these closures too … redundancies for one, but also the impact on those who supply these businesses with goods and services.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel, in that the vaccine is beginning to be rolled out, but the impact Covid has had, is having, and will have for years to come remains to be seen, but no doubt we will likely see many cases of financial hardship, and mental health issues. I don’t want to give an opinion on whether people should or shouldn’t meet up with their families this Christmas, I only know that we won’t be. Covid will not be going anywhere Christmas week, and although it will be lovely for people to share this time with their families in person, I fear the impact of this will result in much heartache for many, as we see cases rise into the new year … and rise they will. Colleges are already preparing for the rise in cases, and not wanting students to return after mixing over the festive period, have planned for remote learning in the first week back.

This weekend saw the church collecting toys, toiletries, chocolates and monetary donations to give to those in need this Christmas. The response to this appeal was overwhelming, and those volunteering to help with this appeal found pleasure in being able to be a part of this, being able to collect the donations given with love and kindness to help others. To see people in person, albeit behind a mask, rather than just their head and shoulders on a screen was lovely, and indeed needed, and all who contributed and supported made a huge difference to the lives of others.

We think about how it is this basic human instinct of touch that we crave so much. We all feel the loss of physical contact, and not being able to hug or touch one another has been difficult, for those wanting to offer comfort and support, but also for those in need of this reassurance and care.

The final additions to our nativity scene are some animals, and also a biscuit or snack to represent hospitality, the latter I chose to omit from my own scene as I thought the cats would graze on this, the knock on effect of this being upset tummies for them, and all that would ensue from that!

We think about the journey we have taken in looking and reflecting on the nativity story and how this resonates in our lives today. The discussions have challenged us to listen, know and take our thoughts further, bringing out many emotions in us.

We are asked to think about the different voices we have heard in each of the scenes we explored, and from that what has stayed with us in particular. I have found all the sessions, incredibly meaningful and powerful, compelling me to reflect and explore much deeper. A voice within me has challenged my thinking; listening, reflecting, discovering, learning, and being grateful for a great many things. I have had more clarity in discovering who I am, and who I need to be and I wonder if the voice within me was my own voice, or the voice of God speaking to me?

So which character is my favourite character? It would have to be Mary. I’ve spoken about this in my other pieces, but I just feel as though I can connect with her the most, being a mother. I remember that feeling of being pregnant with my first child, the excitement, the fear, the wonder of the unknown. I think about how her plans were changed, ruined even, and today how as a mother my children have had to cope with so many changes in their day to day lives. How frightened, angry, hurt she would have been in being separated from her family, and how these emotions resonate with us today as we are unable to meet up with loved ones. Distance, and pandemics leave us without help and support, and Mary relies on her husband to be there for her when she needs help the most, as I do too. And I feel a connection with Mary, knowing that she will become the bereaved mother who has endured watching her child die.

We listen to a suggested piece of music: “The disciples of tomorrow”. I didn’t listen to all the words I confess, as some of the lines jumped out at me, powerful enough to make me write them down, meaning that I missed some of the other lines being sung:

“Have you heard God’s voice? Has your heart been stirred?

In the city streets will you be God’s heart?

Will you use your voice when the multitude are silent?

Will you make a choice to make a stand?“

And the answer is yes. We pause to pray, and ask that our hands and feet can do the work of God, and be a beacon of hope for the community; and that we may practice hospitality where we can. We pray we can find new ways of attending to the needs of our community and have the tools to make a difference. Let us actively listen to each other, so we may respond in a meaningful way.

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