I embarked on my first serious mission from God when I was about four. The adults in our house were talking about Christmas—a riveting subject for a four-year-old in almost any context. I heard my grandpa (Pa) clearly remark that Christmas was “right around the corner”. If I could have made my ears stick up like a dog’s, I would have, because I didn’t want to miss a single syllable of whatever might come next. My grandma (Ma) chimed in right on the heels of Pa’s enlightening comment with a shocking affirmation. In a tone that was uncharacteristically agreeable following one of his declarative statements, she said, “Well, there’s no doubt about that.” There! In a single moment, the two most trusted and authoritative sources of important data in my entire world had just come to the unquestionable conclusion that this unheard of situation did, indeed, truly exist. I didn’t interrupt this breaking news story with my list of burning questions, because I had seen what happens when one of us kids poked his nose into an important adult discussion. They would all go hush-hush and we’d get expelled from the room. No. Silence was golden here, and though this was something that God must surely want me involved in, it was a mystery I would have to deal with on my own.
My mission was to find this evil ‘corner’ and free Christmas from whatever force was holding it back. Unfortunately, my efforts were, as you may have suspected, less than successful. I don’t recall how far I went, or how long it took them to find me. What I do recall clearly is that they were not all that happy with my well-intended expedition, and that Pa categorically denied Ma’s repeated allegations that whole episode was his fault. In any case, I got an unforgettable lesson about the importance of understanding the terms involved before launching out on a mission—even if you think God’s involved.
With that in mind, let me quote my grandpa and point out that Christmas is again, “right around the corner”. We’re about to enter the ‘holiday season’, a hands-down favorite time of year for multitudes of Americans. It holds that position for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the parade of Christmas get-togethers, office parties, church fellowships, and family traditions. Maybe we ought to call this time of year ‘the hospitality season’ instead of ‘the holiday season’.
For most Americans, hospitality reigns from Thanksgiving to after New Year’s Day, and social events run non-stop. Demands associated with them suck up energy, time, and other resources like some kind of black hole during this period of time every year. Folks seem to be either wrestling with how to squeeze another invitation into their already bulging schedules, or frantically running around trying to get everything they need for some event they’re choreographing themselves. Either way, from all external appearances it’s a very hospitable time to be alive in America. So… given that contact with holiday hospitality will be virtually unavoidable in the weeks ahead, it would be appropriate to check out God’s opinion on the subject, and how He might want us to deal with it.
Our natural tendency is to see hospitality as being all about personal enjoyment, self-indulgent foods and activities, and a brief escape from redundant patterns and routines. Christians generally wrap hospitality into the same category as ‘fellowship’. It becomes just another option in the list of activities and entertainment that the Lord approves for His followers. God sees it as more. He sees it as a vehicle for revealing His nature and character, a pragmatic ‘show-and-tell’ presentation of how His love works in the real world. It can be a mechanism to transmit healing, to meet needs, to strengthen, encourage, and restore. From Jesus’ perspective, hospitality is much more than an offering of temporary refreshment, it is a strategy for demonstrating everlasting grace.
Consider the language in this brief admonition from the Apostle Paul that concludes with a call for hospitality.
“Let love be without hypocrisy… Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another… distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13 NKJV)
The terms preceding the mention of hospitality identify some characteristics that ought to be associated with it, terms like ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘affection’, ‘honoring others’, and ‘distributing to needs’. His approach sounds quite personal, doesn’t it? It sounds very focused on others, doesn’t it? What it doesn’t sound like is another ‘hospitality boomerang’—throwing some kind of party with every expectation that it will come back to you again at some point.
What if we approached hospitality as it was demonstrated in one of Jesus’ familiar stories?
“A certain man,” He begins, “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.” His attackers left him “wounded”, “stripped of his clothing”, and “half-dead” (Luke 10:30 NKJV).
Two of his religious countrymen inhospitably passed him by like he was a piece of debris in the road—maybe on their way to a holiday gathering, who knows? Another man, who had no cultural connection, and no reason to care or respond,
“…went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” Luke 10:34 (NKJV).
Now that sounds like the kind of hospitality that Jesus might sign up for. That sounds like some of those characteristics Paul mentioned—love, kindness, affection, honoring others, and distributing to needs. Doesn’t look like anyone’s throwing a boomerang party here, does it?
We don’t generally think of this story in terms of hospitality, but maybe we should. It wasn’t all about self-indulgence and parties, but it does have in it all those characteristics that move hospitality from transient enjoyment to transformational grace. ‘The hospitality season’ is lurking behind some corner right now, and about to pounce on us again. Think about the possibilities … What if our approach to it extended beyond a turkey dinner – or another invitation to a Christmas party?
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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