By Laura Kelly Fanucci, Catholic News Service     1/7/2019

Quick reminder for those of us who attend Mass regularly. 

Many people joined us on Dec. 24 and 25 who don’t normally come to church. They took our parking spots, our usual pews, our hymnals and our coat hooks. 

What fantastic news! 

More people crowding in the doors? Not enough chairs to drag up from the basement? Standing-room only? 

If only we had this problem every week.   

I’ve stood through jam-packed Christmas Masses, sweating in winter coats, kids whining at my knees. I’ve heard the annoyance, the grumbling and the muttering about “Christmas-Easter Catholics.” 

But if our churches were this crowded every Sunday, it would be a dream-come-true. God’s dream-come-true. 

The Incarnation celebrates when God became one of us. God’s love for humanity is not limited to the prompt and patient, the properly dressed, the every-Sunday faithful or the ones who know the prayers. 

Ours is the God who leaves the 99 to seek one lost sheep — and heaven delights. Ours is the God who sweeps the whole house to find one lost coin — and calls friends and neighbors to rejoice. 

So when we celebrate Christmas, whether in church or at home, how can we model our welcome on the abundant, joyful, lavish love of God? 

“Make room for Christ in the inn of your heart,” we often hear this time of year. Can we also make room for Christ in our parish pew and parking lot, our Christmas party or kitchen table? 

Welcoming the stranger is a divine command (Lv 19:34). It defines how we will be judged by God (Mt 25:35). It’s also a basic building block for strong families, healthy communities and faithful churches. 

Lucky for those of us who will show up at church for the four Sundays before Christmas, we have the entire season of Advent to prepare for our guests. 

So let us teach our kids and grandkids that this is how we celebrate Christmas. By welcoming the stranger not only during Christmas Mass, but always. By sliding over to make room for one more. By choosing compassion over comfort. By celebrating humanity, even when people are unpredictable and messy. 

Let’s not make the mistake of every other innkeeper in Bethlehem, turning away a family no one believed could be holy, seeing only scarcity and inconvenience, unwilling and unable to welcome. 

Think of someone you know with a gift for hospitality: the host who can always squeeze in one more, the relative who knows how to stretch the soup or the friend who makes strangers feel like guests of honor. 

If our homes can be places of warm welcome, so can our parishes. 

Christmas is not about our comfort or control — quite the opposite. Christmas celebrates God’s love born among us in the most unlikely circumstances. 

So let’s smile and welcome new faces. Let’s park in the back so our guests can take the front. Let’s not grumble if people don’t know the words to the prayers. 

Let’s offer them our hymnal if we can sing the songs by heart. Let’s smile at their tired toddlers. Let’s share the sign of peace with strangers, not just our own families. 

Maybe our guests will show up again next Sunday and the Sunday after if we show them how glad we are to welcome them. Maybe next year they’ll be regulars along with us. 

Even if they never darken the doors of our church again, if we welcome the stranger as Christ and show them a share of the love we’ve found in our parish home, then we will have celebrated Christmas well.