Making Room in the Digital Inn
The story of Christmas begins with a shortage of hospitality.
Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census and could not find a place to stay. All the inns are booked because of the census, and there is no room for a very pregnant young woman and her betrothed. And so, Jesus is born in a stable and laid in a manger. Mary and Joseph encountered closed doors and “no vacancy” signs throughout Bethlehem. In contrast, this manger becomes a place of radical and holy hospitality, from the animals that make it their home, to the lowly shepherds and later foreigners from the East – the Magi. The simple stable becomes a place of God’s wide welcome.
This hospitable welcome prefigures Jesus’ ministry and the ways he would go on to welcome all people—the outcast, the sick, and those on the margins of religious and civic life.
In many ways, we re-enact that Christmas hospitality in our churches in our preparations for our Christmas observance. We plan worship, publicize services times and ready the church building for the many people that may only come to church once or twice a year. We intentionally and painstakingly prepare our churches and our hearts to welcome the stranger, just as Jesus did.
For all the ways that we are able to connect in our digital world today, it is all too easy to remain in our familiar enclaves and echo chambers. This means only engaging with those people that are similar to us and to hang a “no vacancy” sign on our digital profiles. However, the invitation and the promise of our networked world is that we can reach out and beyond our comfort zones in order to connect, understand, honor and love our neighbors.
In my forthcoming book with Elizabeth Drescher, Click2Save Reboot: The Digital Ministry Bible, we write:
“Hospitality is not just a matter of opening your digital door, but of being willing to travel across the digital domain on a regular basis. Digital hospitality depends on reciprocity—taking the kinds of walks, even out of our comfort zones, that Jesus called us to as disciples and which the apostles and saints modeled.”
What could this look like in digital spaces? For our churches, we should be gearing our websites and social media presence toward newcomers and strangers. We should create what we call a “digital narthex”, where we are able to welcome others by engaging with them around their comments, questions, and seeking. However, we can’t just wait for people to find us. We need to stroll the digital avenues and get off our digital beaten paths in order to encounter and connect with others.
Christmas time, with its spirit of reconciliation, is a great excuse to experiment with reaching out to others, wish them well and offer hope. It is also time to listen and respond to the things that give people joy and also cause them to struggle.
Again we write in Click2Save Reboot:
“We are called to walk among the people, and in doing so, to progressively trample down the barriers that keep us all from knowing the Kingdom that Jesus promises us is always near. This…possibility is richly present in social media communities when we open ourselves to the matrix of networks and relationships available there. In doing so, we claim the digital landscape as sacred space, a locale where the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14) is as present as it is in our churches, our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and everywhere else in our physical communities.”
As we hear the Christmas story again this year, may we be inspired to extend God’s wide welcome and all-inclusive love to friends and strangers alike, to our neighborhoods, our countries and our world.
Pastor Keith Anderson employs a wide range of social media to minister online and offline.