Advent Hospitality -
I spoke here in Austria on Sunday evening from Luke 1, regarding the annunciation, and Mary's embracing of her 'impossible mission'. Pondering the virgin birth, in the wake of a wonderful week of visiting friends in Europe led to a consideration of Mary's womb as a place of hospitality for Christ. "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word" was how Mary responded to the angel's announcement.
Notice her lack of complaints about the timing of this. After all, she was engaged, and telling her betrothed about this little event was certain to be no picnic. Maybe God could have waited?...or chosen someone already married? Why begin this whole 'God becoming flesh' thing with a whiff of potential scandal. Neighbors would talk. Mary, though, not only believed that, sans sex, she was to be pregnant, she welcomed the announcement and sang a hymn of praise. Who does that?
I've found part of the answer through the hospitality shown me in the past week. My wife and I have stayed with friends in Germany who, in every case, treated us as if we were kings and queens. They seemed, somehow, truly delighted that we were descending on them, jet lagged, for a night or two. There was, without exception, artfully decorated tables, good wine, seemingly endless food, and wonderful conversation, as candles shrunk while we sat together with old friends and spoke of our lives; our children, our marriages, our walks with God, our respective countries, and so much more. I never cease to be amazed at how people find the space to be so hospitable. And that, it seems, is the point.
Hospitality is about making space; making space for conversation, for meals, for people to sleep (including a chocolate santa and bottled water in our delightfully prepared bedroom). And of course, we can take this principle and apply it to our life with Christ because, "He stands at the door and knocks".... As I ponder what it means to offer hospitality to Christ, several things come to mind, made clear to me by the example of my European friends:
1. Hospitality takes time - It's easy to provide some space for people to come and go, which is far too often the kind of 'hospitality' I'm guilty of providing in my very busy life. So full am I of appointments, obligations, deadlines, activities, and so called opportunities, that I've been guilty at times of saying to my guests: "here's the bed - here's the food - see ya!" My friends over here remind me by example that hospitality can't be microwaved - it takes time: time for listening, time for preparing a space, time for sharing food, and laughter, and life, and listening for the heart. Thank God Mary had nine months plus about 33 years to offer. How much time do I offer to Jesus in prayer, worship, fellowship? Am I learning that just to be with Him is life enough?
2. Hospitality isn't always convenient - Our friends in Augsburg experienced the unfortunate intersection of work obligations with our visit. Still, we walked to the Advent market, came back to their house and, after they'd put their son to bed, stayed up late conversing. Though we encouraged them to get sleep they said, "we can always sleep, but we can't always be together." I was deeply touched by this, and am now pondering how often I limit my hospitality towards Christ to times when it's convenient.
3. Hospitality comes in hidden forms - Lest you think that Jesus' invitation to hospitality is too mystical, too elusive, He reminds us in Matthew 25 that we practice hospitality towards Christ when we practice hospitality at all - and especially when we practice hospitality with those who are living on the margins. It would be a pity if I limited my notion of hospitality to some sore of 'quiet time', though it might certainly include that. But it must also include care for others, for real people. And that's often where the rub comes. Hospitality towards Jesus? Certainly! Just don't ask my to make space in my full life for another relationship - I'm full already. Yet, if I've no space for new relationships, no space for the poor, no space for justice, I've no space for Jesus.
We were blessed beyond measure by the hospitality of friends, and I was reminded once again of what it means to show real hospitality. Initially, as I pondered this, I was thinking in two categories: showing hospitality to people, and showing hospitality to Christ. Though I might be overstating the case just bit, I think I'm discovering that what I thought were two categories are actually one and the same.
Blessings to you... as you make room for Jesus this advent season.