Open house on New Year’s Day is an old New-York custom. One New Year’s Day in Brooklyn, our fellow parishioners opened their homes to friends and neighbors. You came, greeted and were greeted, shared holiday cheer, and went on to the rest of your day – and year.
Open house during the holidays – giving and receiving visits and holiday greetings and good wishes for the New Year – is an older and wider custom. On the Sea Islands of the Carolinas, as I recall J. Herman Blake telling the story, people travel from house to house offering greetings and good wishes.
Wiser than simply sitting on the couch, listening to the forced-air heat, watching the football games and parades, and surfeiting on sliced ham, the custom of holiday open-house reminds us of the giving and receiving we do among each other in all the parts of our lives and all the days of the year.
And then we remember: all we have and all we give comes from God. As David prayed, “all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14b)
This New Year begins a little differently than most: the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1) falls on a Sunday and so takes precedence over the usual readings. We remember the giving of the name of Jesus to our Lord. It was a giving to him – and a gift to us – for what it means is: God saves! The meaning of the holy Child’s birth, and his purpose in life, is announced in his very name.
Joshua, the Hebrew form of the name, gives us a hint and an expectation. God delivers! This is the one who will deliver his people. But of course the Savior who arrives is not always the Savior we expect. He has come to deliver his people not merely from human oppressors but from their sins. The good news is that he does – and that we are included among his people.
Jesus leads us, his people, into a new reign of freedom. In his name we move forward into a New Year, rejoicing in God’s grace and goodness, bestowed on us in the darkest nights of the year, and renewed on the brightest of days.
God – through Jesus – does more than save us from – he welcomes us to: he not only gets us out of the traps of our own old ways of doing things, he invites us into a new way of life, a new community, a new family of humankind, where all are welcome at his Table.
So holy hospitality – radical welcome – is in the Church’s DNA. When we extend a welcome to others – when we share the hospitality of the holy table – when we greet the friend and the sojourner among us – and when we seek out and invite others to share in the hospitality of our fellowship – we are following an old custom, not merely of the New Year, but of the New Testament.
Let’s rejoice! And be of good cheer. In this New Year, let’s extend a welcome to all in the name of Jesus.—Fr. J.
For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington (January 2012).