Holiday Hospitality and Holiness
This one was a an older couple’s large house. It took them 6 hours to properly decorate the place with large swaths of red, lots of tinsel, mistletoe, holly on the chandeliers, a large Christmas tree pine by the grand piano etc, and it was lovely:
Christmas Day lunch at mine – we collected everyone who didn’t have a place to go after the Christmas Day Service and brought them home. Managed to squeeze 18 people around two tables in our small (and very messy) kitchen:
The first of many to stay in our living room this Christmas was a south-east asian girl – a friend of someone I’d met at New Word Alive earlier this year. She had a refreshingly bottomless stomach and there were good conversations over many 3rd/4th helpings:
On Boxing Day, she surprised us by bursting into tears as she said her goodbyes, sobbing that she was overwhelmed that strangers would welcome her into their house, feed her so well, and take good care of her. Sensitive as ever, I just pointed at her and laughed. A housemate was kinder and explained that Christians show love to strangers because of the love first shown to us by Jesus, who loved the unloveable.
It hadn’t occurred to me that hospitality was a particularly Christian thing to do. But there it is in Romans 12:13 – “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” and in 1 Peter 4:9 – “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”, the Greek for “hospitality” (“philozenia”), if the commentators are to be believed, being a portmanteau of philos (meaning “affection”) and zenos (meaning “stranger”).
Of course the glossies and foodie shows spur us to a form of hospitality that is more performance than service – the wonderful decor and table settings, the well-plated food, the atmosphere either of understated sophistication or carefully curated comfort. This entertainment is, in its way, delightful, but domestic goddess-ness is probably not the hospitality envisaged by the Bible writers.
In Scripture, hospitality:
- seems to be directed in the context of love – an expression of having received God’s love and an expression of Christian love to others;
- primarily to other Christians (though not of the same local church)(Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, Hebrews 13); and
- appears to encompass the provision of lodging and food to strangers, tending to the sick, visiting people in prison (Matthew 25:31-46), and including aliens (not necessarily of the green-with-antennae variety) in communal meals.
If hospitality is about the home, the food may not be top quality (although one should probably not, as I accidentally did, feed expired milk to one’s guest…twice…). The house may be a bit of a mess, and the bedclothes mayn’t match. There will probably not be anything outstanding for one’s guest to tweet or blog or update their Facebook status about. The disorderliness of the house would preclude any interest from Pininterest. But the focus isn’t on the host(ess) but the guest and his/her comfort.
And so how one views one’s God-given accommodation and assets would also be different – not a little Hobbit-hole into which we retreat to and jealously guard from the world but a sacrificially open door for brothers and sisters and so treated as such: a living room fitted with ugly but practical sofa-beds, a cumbersome but good stash of folding chairs and stacking stools for large gatherings, etc.
As a housemate and I were eating the leftovers with a rack of grilled ribs the day after, we chatted about this whole hospitality thing, understanding that it was the outflow of a relationship with God would require different changes of mindset from different groups of people. The housemate serves a group that consists of young working adults who are ethnically Chinese, most Mandarin-speaking; I serve people who range from their 20s to 80s, and are mostly ethnically Caucasian and from the United Kingdom. It could be that one group would have to be encouraged to keep showing hospitality but be made to understand that this isn’t just courtesy and a sign of a well-brought-up individual but a command from God. And the other group might have be to encouraged to look at their living space and other assets (including time, energy, comfort) less self-centredly. But of course, courses for horses.