Christmas Vacation: filling hospitality with joy instead of tension

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Looking for a better way of being together than “Christmas Vacation”?  read on:

“Dwelling” is a great word. It can mean the space in which we occupy our lives: “My dwelling was built in 1928, and leans a little bit downhill” (true statement). Or, it can mean something we do: “we’ll all be dwelling together this Christmas, 8 of us, a full house!” (also true).

There’s also a third way to use the word, and it’s tucked away in a prayer of Paul’s where he asks that “Christ would dwell in (our) hearts through faith“. How is this third use different, and what does it mean for us as we celebrate Christmas?

When my oldest daughter comes home from Europe today, she’ll leave the past days of motels and staying with friends in Germany. Finally, after days of snow delays, she’ll be home, and home will feel like, well, home. She’ll know where the chocolate is, where the extra sheets and towels are. She’ll know the password to connect to the internet. She’ll feel free to wake up early or stay up late, making French press coffee, watching movies, baking.

But there’s something more to it, even than that. There’s a relational sense of comfort, of belonging. Laughter, tears, honest conversations, are free to happen here because it’s safe. There’s an atmosphere she feels (I hope) that says, “we’re for you”, even as my wife and I know she’s “for us”.

I’m not romanticizing, not making this up. This is what “dwell” can mean, though we all know that, in our lesser moments, we miss the mark, even with those we love.

So here we are, most of us, getting ready to either “go home” or become a place of hospitality for those coming to our home, and the question that hangs out there is this: How can we “dwell” together is this way where grace, truth, laughter, tears, are all mixed together so that “home” is a place where we “dwell together” in the best sense, Paul’s sense, of the word, “dwell”?

1. It begins in the interior, in our hearts. It’s there that Paul invites us to learn how to ‘dwell’ with Christ, which means nothing other than learning to become perfectly comfortable with Christ, believing that he’s not only with us, but inexorably “for us”, that we’re “in the family”, and that we’re utterly free from fear of condemnation, even though we’ve crossed God’s boundaries and stepped into greed, lust, fear, rage, or so much more, time and again. Yes we’ve blown it. Yes, Christ still loves us. But the light is on, the coffee’s waiting, along with a good conversation.

We need to start here. Lots of people are trying to fix the outside, the relationships with children or parents that are mucked up, but haven’t yet learned to dwell with Christ. I’d suggest that becoming at ease with the only one in the universe who loves perfectly is the best possible starting point for creating good dwelling places. Jesus doesn’t need us to clean the place up before he feels at home. After all, he was born in a cave!   Just start – right where you are, having coffee with God: a verse or two, a prayer, a moment of silence, or maybe reciting the Lord’s prayer in rhythm with your breath, slowly, as your force yourself to inhale and exhale deeply. Just get started.

2. After praying that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith, he goes on to exhort us to live together, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” This kind of humility, grace, and tolerance makes safe places for transformation, but they don’t happen accidentally. He goes on to say that we need to work at “preserving the bond of peace”. Know that Paul isn’t talking about being phony or covering up hard conversations. Rather he’s saying this: work at showing demonstrable love, encouragement, and affirmation whenever and wherever you can. This will provide the safe background for the hard conversations that each of us will inevitably need, not only to deliver, but to receive.

Soon our homes will be filled with people, real food, and lots of conversations. Capturing the vision of dwelling with Christ, and out of that intimacy, creating space of “dwelling” to bless others, can make this season rich and joyous.

Merry Christmas… may Christ’s life be your dwelling place, and may you be a dwelling place of grace for those you love.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.


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