... in a Christmas welcome

Published on 15 Dec 2019
Harrods at Christmas

I used to work with tourists in central London and give directions all the time. I was reminded of this recently when I passed a woman asking some people how to get to Selfridges. The people she had asked didn't know, but as I'd heard her asking, I stopped her and gave directions.

It's always been a subject of some bemusement to me that although many tourists come to see the sights that you'd expect them to see (Big Ben, alas now covered in scaffolding, St Paul's, the big museums etc) many tourists actually come to London for the famous shops: Harrods, Selfridges, or to see the waxworks at Madame Tussauds, and to the Hard Rock Cafe on Picadilly. There's a judgemental part of me that wished I didn't get asked for directions to shops when there's so many brilliant, and free ways to experience culture in London: The National Gallery, the Tate (both), the British Museum, the museums at South Kensington. Then, there's lots of wonderful markets and it's such a beautiful city to explore in terms of its architecture and parks. But no, they will go and spend their money on Madame Tussauds, overpriced open top bus tours, and Harrods.  In other words, the London I know and love is a completely different one to the London a lot of tourists see when they come!

When I think about it this relationship to 'the sights' is much the same as how some practising Christians feel about people who come to church only for a carol concert, Midnight Mass or the Christmas Day service. There's a tiny part of some of us that thinks that the Christian Christmas they are dabbling in is not the real Christmas as experienced by those of us who know Christ every day. This attitude denies them something really important though, a chance to discover Christmas and Christ for themselves. Maybe the tourists go and see the waxworks, but along the way they get on London buses, walk down our streets, and maybe go the museums as well. Or maybe they don't, but they find the London they wished to find, and that is what they want. It's not really for us to judge. 

Of course we hope and pray that people who enter church will come to know Christ, but we must offer them a complete and unjudgemental welcome. Just like stopping to give directions to Selfridges, so we must remember that any entry point to the Christmas story and the message of Christ the Saviour is really better than none at all, and everyone experiences it in their own way.