“Let every heart prepare him room.” We sing this line from “Joy to the World” during Advent, the season set apart for celebrating the first coming of Jesus in the Incarnation. Yet often we forget that the way we receive our guests—the very act of feeding the hungry and giving a cup of water to the thirsty—is equivalent to welcoming Christ (see Matt. 25:38).
Unfortunately, our own impossible standards of entertainment get in the way of reaching out. We might feel we have to have spotless kitchen counters. Or that we must set the perfect holiday table and serve our own homegrown artichokes, like Martha Stewart. Or perhaps we think we must create the perfect Pinterest version of soft gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting and sugar-frosted cranberry garnish. Such standards often keep us from opening our homes and hearts to guests, friends and strangers. More damaging still is the idea that we must neglect our visitors in order to give them the perfect meal; here another Martha, the one in the Bible, comes to mind. But hospitality is primarily about people, not showmanship.
The scriptures have much to say about hospitality. While we might think of entertaining guests as a luxury, the Bible treats such generosity as a mark of true Christianity. That is, a Spirit-filled person opens his or her home.
To the first-century Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul said to “pursue hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). That’s active, not passive. And in personal missives to Titus and Timothy, he insisted that a male church leader “must be hospitable” (Tit. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Additionally, a paid widow was also to have “practiced hospitality.”
Elsewhere, the writer of Hebrews exhorted his audience with “Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). I suspect he had in mind Sarah and Abraham, who fed some travelers before they had any idea these laughter-evoking visitors were heavenly beings. Finally, the apostle Peter said, “Show hospitality to one another without complaining.”
Ouch. That last admonition can hurt. That means when we open our homes, we mustn’t fuss when they drink all the milk we were saving to use on our cereal. Or when they take too long in the bathroom when we need to get ready for work. Or they talk too loudly on their cell phones late at night. Accommodation goes with the territory. But it’s worth it.
Recently I made a business trip to Baltimore, and instead of staying in a hotel, I lodged with my niece. She and her husband have three small boys who loved scaring and tackling “Aunt Sandi.” These relatives also had a delightful houseguest who’s a don at Cambridge, so our little Anglican-Episcopalian-
Some of the members of our church spent Thanksgiving Day among the homeless. But instead of having them line up in an impersonal line, these believers loaded up their kids and their nice dishes, set tables, and had conversations with strangers over a meal with these guests.
Years ago, I read a thick tome about the political legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson titled Master of the Senate. Though not a big fan of the man, I came away with an appreciation for his valuing of facetime. Part of Johnson’s political mastery was in walking down the hall when others would have used less personal methods of communication. He believed that the strongest alliances can be formed in person. Enemies can become friends when they have to face each other. In this Johnson was right. And his wisdom illustrates one of the many benefits of sharing our homes.
When our Lord came to earth, he had no crib for a bed. And he continues to manifest himself through those in need of our open doors: The international student who would love to enter an American home or accompany a family to a Christmas musical. The shut-in who can’t travel and needs someone to come to her. And annoying Uncle Bubba who needs us to practice hospitality again this year—only this time, without complaint.
Why? “For the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these …you have done it unto me.’” Let every home prepare a room.
Sacred Story is honored to have Dr. Sandra Glahn as a guest contributor in December. She is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of eighteen books, including the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sandraglahn.