I’ve been thinking about hospitality lately. There’s a lot of hosting and being hosted this time of year.
On Christmas day my immediate family is playing host to my wife’s extended family.
Last week our family went out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant and was treated to some great Middle Eastern hospitality by the owner/cook. Although we had a server, he was our host. He kept coming out to check on how each of us was doing with our food, and brought out several samples to make sure that each of us had plenty of food that we would like.
As we think about Jesus coming into the world I wonder, who was host and who was guest? The answer is not so easy.
John 1 tells us that all things were made through the Word. He was the grand Host, creating the world, and populating it with humans. At his incarnation, things changed. In the same chapter John tell us that this Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. That sounds as if he came into our world, and we humans hosted him.
In my limited knowledge of the Roman Catholic mass, Jesus is seen especially as host. The communion wafers are called “The Host.” Because the leftover consecrated wafers are kept in the altar in the front of the sanctuary, worshipers bow to The Host of the feast as they enter to celebrate mass.
We Protestants give more emphasis on Jesus as guest. In our worship, we talk a great deal about “having a personal relationship with Jesus.” We speak of “asking Jesus into our hearts.” A Protestant devotional classic is called “My Heart, Christ’s Home.”
These are emphases of course; Catholics and Protestants recognize Jesus as both host and guest. What difference does that make for hospitality in church life?
Healthy churches think about and work at hospitality. Like our Lord himself, they give and receive hospitality graciously. In the body of Christ, all of us are hosts and all of us are guests. All of us reflect the Lord himself, who received and gave. All of us have something to give and something to receive from each other.
Too often, people with disabilities are seen only as people who receive, and nondisabled people view themselves as the ones who give. This Christmas, I hope you have the joy of giving and receiving.
Giving hospitality: A couple days ago, someone sent me an article from the Catholic Digest called “The Deacon in the Power Wheelchair.” In that article, the author Kathy Kuczka describes ways that Catholic churches are growing in their welcome to people with disabilities. For churches that want to grow their hospitality toward people with disabilities, she says that one of the first steps that churches can take is, “to look around and notice, not only who is worshiping beside us, but also who isn’t – and why.” When we play host to other people, especially people in need, we play host to Christ himself. (Matthew 25:31-46) This Christmas let’s take careful not of who is not worshiping among us and ask what we can do to make our church fellowships more inviting.
Receiving hospitality: As we think of the people we know, we might think that some people have nothing to give us. People with disabilities are often viewed by nondisabled people as having nothing to give. May that never happen in our churches! When we receive the blessing of other people’s love, we experience a taste of God’s grace as well. "Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . . " James 1:17 (HCSB) Let’s make a conscious effort to receive from people who are thought of as having nothing to give.
As we give and receive hospitality, we and our churches grow more and more like Christ.