When we think of hospitality, we may think of the hotel manager who leaves the light on for tired travelers or the "hospitality industry" where we pay people to be nice to us. Hospitality often involves an attitude of "What can you do for me if I am nice to you."
Biblical hospitality goes much deeper than our common definitions. It is strangers welcoming strangers. It is giving special preference to the outsider who is disconnected from the support structures of home, family and community. In fact, over time hotels, hospitals, care centers, orphanages and great social service providers are a response to the Biblical understanding of hospitality.
Hospitality, as we live it in our lives, is not just trying to get someone to do something we think is good. It is welcoming people who are different from us and opening ourselves to deep change. Hospitality is not simply seeking out people like us, but unlike us. Hospitality involves our involvement in the unconditional flow of God's love to another person. As Matthew 25:35b says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." The surrounding verses speak of hospitality for the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, sick and imprisoned. Hospitality is not related to appearance, behavior or acceptability. God invites us to accept each person as a guest. As Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
There is a long biblical history of strangers bringing great insight to Biblical heroes. I suspect many of us have received the blessing of unexpected insights through the wisdom of strangers.
As we journey through the season of waiting, called Advent, we have the God-given opportunity to make it a time of hospitality at home, in our church relationships and in our community involvement. Guests or strangers will, in some way, arrive at our door. How will we receive them? What are some ways we might practice deep hospitality as we journey toward Christmas and the seasons beyond?
The four weeks of advent are represented by four candles that symbolize hope, peace, love and joy. Hospitality is visually present in those candles, and the light we can bring into the lives of others. As individuals, families, churches and social service agencies we can stretch our understanding of hospitality so that those who feel or are disconnected can experience the gift of acceptance. As we practice hospitality, we are gifting both the recipient and ourselves. No -strings-attached giving opens us to deep and exciting avenues for growth.
There are many ways to practice hospitality during the holiday season. We can provide food and gift help to families in need through such caregivers as the Glory Hole, St. Vincent de Paul, AWARE and the Salvation Army. They need our resources to be a resource to others. (The Glory Hole not only provides food baskets, meals and housing, but has a Christmas party for families and children. They depend on gift donations for the December 23 party.) Any of these caregivers would welcome your call and your efforts to connect those who are disconnected. Be creative by involving your children so they too grow in awareness of reaching out with hospitality.
Many of us also have a natural connection with people who feel disconnected in our community. Do you know one of the many homeless teens in our community? How might you practice hospitality in their lives? Many individuals and families are struggling with invisible brain disorders (such as depression, schizophrenia, fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, etc.), other disabilities or alcoholism.
They need someone to practice hospitality in their lives. Who do you know, who may be unlike you, that would be blessed by your hospitality?
It is good for us to open ourselves to a broader understanding of hospitality during this holiday season. But our challenge is to apply God-given hospitality throughout the year. May we always seek to make connections with all God's people.
Larry Rorem is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.