I felt like a stranger tonight

I felt like a stranger tonight.  I sat in the pews.  It was the first time since 1982 that I had not “worked” on Christmas eve either as the church musician or as the pastor.  I went to the Christmas eve service where my husband attends, and where I had attended many years ago with our children before God did the strange thing of calling me to serve in the Lutheran church. Tonight was a very different kind of worship.  The congregation has changed and I have changed, but Rick (my husband) was playing in the brass group.  It was good to hear and support him in his gift of music—something that I had not been able to do with my presence for these many years.  Still, I felt like a stranger.

Being the introverted stranger in a place of worship is not so different from being a backpacker on the AT—not knowing who you will meet or where you will sleep on any given night.  While I am on the trail, I’ve had practice in making my home wherever I am.  So in the worship I reminded myself that these are my brothers and sisters in Christ even if they pack things differently.  Their home is my home.

As strange as I felt this Christmas eve in the pew, Kathy came and welcomed me.  And Ruth and Wayne.  And singing Silent Night welcomed me.  And while I was grieving those I was missing and the traditions I love, the reading from John 1 while holding the lit candle welcomed me.

Afterwards, I came back to the house and listened to some familiar Christmas music.  In the process, I rediscovered a choral anthem with lyrics that made me realize it was Kathy and Ruth and Wayne who were Christ to me tonight.  They treated me, the stranger, the long-lost friend, as if I were Christ.  I know tonight that whether one is the stranger or the welcomer,  it is  in this act of welcoming and receiving that Christ is present.  Either is an opportunity for a holy blessing.

And after all, isn’t that a thread that winds through this strange story of Christ’s birth, God’s coming to earth?  Whether it is Joseph and Mary, or the child, the shepherds, the wise men traveling from afar uncertain where to go—or even the heralding angels who, after all, don’t do this sort of thing very often—all were either strangers or welcomers or both.

May you who feel like strangers tonight and you who are seeking out the strangers know that Christ is truly present making his home among us as we offer welcome to one another.

And if you’re curious, here is the music  with its lyrics below that I listened to after returning home and which then prompted me to write:

I saw a stranger yestereen;
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place;
and in the sacred names of the Triune God
he blessed me and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones,
and the lark said in her song:
Often, Often, Often,
goes the Christ in a stranger’s guise.


  1. I have felt that strangeness often when worshiping in the last 15 years. I am glad there were folks who greeted you and that you sensed God’s presence. I am sure Grantham would seem strange to me too no, but I still long for what use to be!

  2. Elaine, I thought of you tonight and all that you were a part of (and a catalyst for) at my church and in my own life. You are missed, and loved, and quietly celebrated. Christ’s peace to you, friend.

  3. So glad that you were welcomed. And yes, it’s strange to sit in the pews when that is not where you usually are…Merry Christmas, dear one.

  4. Wow. Thank you for this exquisite Christmas blessing.

  5. I like to think never a stranger, just a possible new friend waiting to meet.

  6. Thanks for the reminder that part of the great mystery of Christ is how he is found in the smallest acts of welcoming.

    • Emmalee Dent says:

      This is Truth, Life and Love of God’s Christ, and written so movingly, as to be understood by all and represented in everyone, everywhere! May I share it on Facebook? Much love and thanks.

  7. Miss you, you were such a part of my life. We all need to welcome a stranger.

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