Christmas is a time for family. If you have a wonderful family, your home is probably filled with joy and laughter. You anxiously anticipate the arrival of family members from far-off places. Though your home might feel cramped with the addition of so many bodies, you happily boot the children from their beds and carve out space on the floor for sleeping bags.
If this is the scenario in your home, count yourself blessed. For other families, old wounds and continued slights make the holidays a time of stress. Maybe you have a family member who says hurtful things. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe one of your family members plays favorites with your kids. All of these things can add up to a feeling of dread when it's time for a family visit.
When it comes to dealing with visitors during the holidays, we should take a page out of Mary's book. Let me set the scene for you. Mary has just given birth in a smelly, dirty stable. As we all know, having a baby isn't a clean process. It's also exhausting. I'm sure she would have simply liked to take a nap afterward. Yet, what happens after she lays Jesus in the manger? Some guys she's never met show up to see the baby. Not only are they strangers, but they smell like sheep. And these guys don't even bring gifts.
Now, I would have been tempted to tell these shepherds to go away and come back at a better time. But, obviously, Mary and Joseph let them into the stable to see Jesus because Luke 2:16-18 says "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."
Because Mary was gracious enough to let the shepherds in to see Jesus -- even though it wasn't the ideal time for her -- the shepherds were able to be the first to spread the good news of Jesus. Because of Mary's hospitality, perfect strangers were "amazed." Whether we're dealing with unexpected visitors or planned ones, our attitude toward their visit gives them an impression of God. If we're warm and welcoming, showing them our hospitality, then they can leave having felt the love of God.
I know some people are hard to love, others are high-maintenance visitors, some arrive at inopportune times, but every time we welcome someone into our homes, we are given an opportunity to be a picture of God's love to them. No matter how we feel about someone, God loves them.
Being gracious and doing our best to let God love our difficult family members through us also gives our kids an example of God's love. Our kids can tell from our actions whether we enjoy somone else's company. But we never want our kids to form a poor impression of their relatives because we're hanging onto a grudge or refusing to let God open our eyes to see that person as He sees them. Our attitude toward those who enter our homes during the holidays makes an impression on our kids.
If your kids have trouble getting along with some of your extended family members, remind your kids that God wants us to show love to everyone. Ask them to help you think of ways you can show love to that person while they are in your home. Explain that we won't always receive that love back, but God wants us to love the other person, no matter what their response.
Don't let another person suck the joy out of your holiday season. View a difficult visit as an opportunity for your entire family to be the hands and feet of Christ in showing love to that person. It may be just what they need and they may leave as amazed by the love of God as the shepherds.