I'm behind the lectionary for a while this winter since I wanted to preach the texts for the Sunday after Christmas on January 2 and that meant either skipping Epiphany or doing it after the fact. We did it on January 9. As I've continued to think about those strange visitors from the East who came to the infant Jesus, we had a couple of gifts from strangers ourselves. On the first Sunday of the New Year (which happened the day after New Year's Day this year. You can imagine what that did for attendance!), visitors were not hard to spot in our congregation. A couple I had never seen before pulled into the parking lot early, while some of us were still setting things up. They sat and waited for a while, and when the few others who came that day began to show up, they got out and came in. They had a cloth tote with them. I'm not usually skittish about such things, but I did wonder what they were doing since I doubted they knew we collect canned and boxed food for a local pantry along with our offering every week. Once they were inside, we discovered them to be very sociable people, talking and visiting with me and with others as though they had known us forever. Then out of that tote they pulled a big assortment of Christmas candy. "Can you find someone to give this to?" they inquired. People mean well when they give us all this, but we really don't need it. It turns out they were from Pennsylvania and were on their way further south in Florida where they intend to spend the rest of the winter. Several of our folks took portions of that candy home, whether we needed it or not, mostly because these who had been strangers had brought it as a gift. I don't know anything about those folks' church history or practice, but they had learned a lot about hospitality somewhere. That Sunday was a Communion Sunday for us. Our guests opted not to participate, which is fine, but I'll admit that I had to wonder what kind of a church background might have helped them become so outgoing, friendly, and generous, but still prevent them from receiving a gift we could have shared with them. Hopefully we were able to share the Gospel with them. Maybe that's gift enough. Add that to the long list of things I'll keep thinking about.
On another Sunday a week or two before Christmas, three beautiful poinsettias were waiting outside our worship space when I arrived before others came. No card. No sign of where they may have come from. They added a festive note to our worship space on that Sunday, on Christmas Eve and on the Sundays after Christmas. No one had any idea where they had come from. We put a note in the bulletin to say the flowers were from friends. Another couple who had visited with us before Christmas promised they would return when they got back from being with their family during the holidays. Yesterday, there they were, happy to be back home, and seemingly happy to be in worship with us. As we greeted and got reacquainted, they asked if we had enjoyed the poinsettias! They had them at home and didn't want them not to be enjoyed while they were away, so they dropped them off outside our door on their way out of town. I was preaching yesterday on Paul's mystery revealed in Ephesians. The Christmas flower mystery got solved, too. And we met some great new friends.
There's something about strangers bearing gifts. Maybe we all need to try to be those strangers more often.