One of the most iconic moments in all nativity plays is the moment when Mary and Joseph go from door to door in search of a safe place to bring the baby Jesus into the world. At every turn someone says that there is no room and shuts the door in their faces. As with most things in nativity plays this is frequently, greatly embellished with multiple inn keepers slamming doors on Mary and Joseph with one of the inn keepers being a lobster for comic effect.

We might scoff at this very tenuous grip on the Bible story but in looking to be more faithful to the text we need to be careful that we too don’t play fast and loose. For instance, it would be easy for us to make the leap from that story to saying: well just like Mary and Joseph were welcomed in, when there was no guest room available, so we too should extend welcome to those in need – even when Christmas might mean our houses are bulging at the seams. But we know very little about the place where Mary and Joseph stayed and what the welcome was like. Those that ‘welcomed’ Mary and Joseph might have been very annoyed at having to share their space and/or they might have charged an extortionate amount! In short, they may not have been very welcoming.

The funny thing is of course that there are plenty of good biblical reasons why we should welcome people and be hospitable, it’s not hard to find a biblical vision for it. Sometimes it’s maybe our desperation to say something new about Christmas that drives us questionable handling of the Bible (I know I’ve been there! Year after year!). Welcome of and hospitality towards youth, children and families in our churches and communities is, of course, very important – so how might we think about it faithfully this Christmas?

Let me float an idea which you can chew over (and please spit out if it doesn’t taste right!). When Jesus Christ was born, God the Son was being sent by the father to become incarnate (of flesh) to enter into the world – why? There are a number of reasons why, but one key reason is that he took on flesh so that he could represent us, to stand in our place and die to take the punishment for sin. So far so basic, but crucially what this enabled was an adoption, a bringing into God’s family of those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Christmas then is nothing less than the beginning of the welcome of people into the Godhead, the start of the process of adopting people to become cherished daughters and sons of a loving Heavenly Father. Christmas is a time to remember that those who are not naturally in God’s family, those who are not legally his, become his. Christmas is a very big and clear reminder of God’s desire to reach out to those who are in ultimate need, in need of adoption into a loving family.

Now we could again jump from this to something that is good but not justifiable. We could say: oh yes, just as God the Father adopts us so we can and should adopt youth and children. Well maybe, though I’m not convinced that we can move so smoothly between those two either.

Maybe a more solid and faithful route is to consider what it means to be called to be like Jesus. This is a theme in the New Testament. For example, Paul says that in Christ we are being ‘changed into his likeness’ (2 Corinthians 3:18) and again in Romans 8:29 Paul writes that God’s will is that we are ‘conformed into the likeness of his Son.’ We are to become like Jesus. What does this actually look like? Well, lots of things but we could do worse than thinking of the fruit that the Spirit of Christ produces in his people: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It might sound like a long way around, but this is a good application of the incarnation, the message of Christmas. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. We can’t give our lives as ransom for many as He did, but we can pick up our cross and follow Him as an approach to our whole life. In other words, we should show the family resemblance.

So, if Christmas is the start of our adoption into God’s family and a reminder for us to show the family resemblance, what might we start to think about in our families and churches. How can we show this message of Christmas to youth and children, both those in need and those that might help those in need?

Let’s think of four things:

Who can you invite this Christmas?

I know I know, our houses are normally full enough and the cost of Christmas can be high (especially these days!), but are there people in our churches and communities that will be lonely this Christmas, or cold, or hungry? Inviting people into our homes is not only a good thing to do for those we invite, but will be a great example and witness to the children and young people already in our families and churches. It seems that children that grow up in a family that practices hospitality end up more compassionate and mature at a younger age than others.[i] Sure, we can focus on telling youth and children what Christmas is about, but actions will speak far more loudly here.

Some people invite others into their homes just for a Christmas meal, others feel they can go further and invite someone or some people to stay for a few nights. If that’s too daunting, then why not think about acting as a church family rather than just a biological-legal family. Some churches put on Christmas dinner at a church building for those that would like it. It’s worth remembering at this point that these events don’t have to be over-engineered; they can be good quality without being overelaborate – Christine Phol (in her helpful book Making Room) points out that hospitality is just as much about the quality of the time and attention given than any food or activities prepared.[ii] Either way, James would remind us that for all our carol singing and nativities this Christmas ‘religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27)

Warm spaces

Maybe this Christmas your church could become one of the thousands of warm spaces that have sprung up in recent years. These spaces simply look to provide somewhere warm for people to come and meet others. I was in a church in Manchester just this week that has a warm, welcoming space that people in the community drop into during the day. In many ways it was nothing ‘special’ just warm drinks and people to chat to and play games with, but it was special, the atmosphere was wonderful. It was during the school day so there were few youth and children there but parents with babies and toddlers were present and demonstrates the need for these spaces. Warm Welcome can help you with ideas for how to get started:


Fostering and adoption

The UK has many crises. One of them is the number of children in care. Every 15 minutes a child is taken into care. Fostering and adoption has always been a part of the church’s story over the years. In the Roman Empire the practice of leaving babies our to die (called ‘exposing’) was common and accepted. The early church was known for taking in such babies that had been left to die. This was done organically at first but started to lead to the formation of early orphanages. Organisations such as Home for Good are seeking to bring this practice back into the church and updating it for the contemporary situation. Obviously, adoption and fostering cannot be considered lightly, it is a massive undertaking and I’m not going to say: ‘How about adopting a child for Christmas?’ but there are lots of different ways that you and your church can help. Why not look at the Home for Good Christmas pages on their website for ideas (


Support charities working with refugees

The refugee crisis is just as big as the crisis in care. We might not understand all the ins and outs of the social, economic and political issues involved but when people are here in our country then they are almost always in need. We don’t have to be experts or take sides in a debate to simply help those in front of us. The majority are not youth, children or families but there are some. Even in my hometown, which is a small market town that is predominantly white, not well connected and so receives very few refugees, we have some refugees, including some teenagers separated from their families. As with adoption and fostering most of us will find this a big challenge and need help. Welcoming Churches provides resources to support churches welcoming refugees, their website has ideas and guidance for welcoming people this Christmas ( Again, this will not only be an amazing thing to be involved with for the sake of any youth, children and families that are refugees in the UK but also our approach to them will speak volumes to the youth and children in our families and churches.


Words of caution

The ideas above are not supposed to make anyone feel guilty. They’ll challenge us for sure, but we cannot take the weight of the world on our shoulders – we are not the Messiah. As Pohl says, ”it is not sinful to be limited and finite.” Pohl is a great advocate for welcome and hospitality but is keen to stress that we all have our limits. It might be the mere emotional, physical or financial limits which if we go beyond end up in severe dilution of our efforts, resentment or even breakdown. Also, some situations may go beyond our skills and abilities. I remember friends who fostered and were asked to look after a child that proved to simply be too much for them (and these are some of the most patient and wise people I know). This is especially important for those of us with children. Yes, through good welcome of others they will mature and learn to be compassionate, but they will resent welcome if it is not broad enough to include them.[iii]


Welcome as worship

Whatever small step you and your church are able to take in welcoming people this Christmas maybe the last piece of advice we should take from Pohl is to think of welcome not only as meeting a duty (though it is that) and not only an expression of the family resemblance (though that is key) it is also worship, the response to God’s welcome and mercy to us. As we sing our carols of worship in the coming weeks let’s not forget that our words will only be the sound of a clashing cymbal without an act of love. For as Philip Hallie says: ”Deeds speak the language of the great virtues far better than words do…Words limp outside the gates of the great mystery of compassion for strangers.”[iv] 

[i] Christin Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pg.156.

[ii] Pohl, Making Room, pg.178.

[iii] Pohl, Making Room, pg. 175.

[iv] Philip Hallie, Tales of Good and Evil, Help and Harm. (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), pg.42.