|Celebrate the Season: Welcome the Stranger|
|Written by Eric Hoey|
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:6-7, NRSV.|
As I reflect upon this text, I am struck at the lack of hospitality the innkeeper demonstrated toward a weary pregnant traveler. Granted the census was being taken, and there were travelers in every corner of the city. Inns were probably booked solid. If the innkeeper knew that the Messiah was to be born on his property, would he have made room for them or let them stay in his own room? Can you imagine what his future business could be like if the Messiah was born on his property?
The greatest opportunities are often missed because we are too busy doing our own “important” activities rather than partnering with God to accomplish God’s ministry and God’s redemptive agenda to the world. The Christmas season is filled with many opportunities to intentionally look where we can participate with God in welcoming a stranger. Everybody entertains, goes to Christmas parties, and takes time to shop. What would it look like if every Presbyterian seized the festivities of the season with the intent to share hospitality with someone who does not normally go to church?
When Jesus sent out the seventy-two in Luke 10, they were instructed that their ministry of peace was to be pursued only if they had received hospitality from the home where they had visited. Whenever hospitality is present, we can see where God is already at work and our opportunity to bring the message of peace. But if we are too busy pursuing hospitality for our own financial and political gain, we will miss opportunities to see where God could be at work and how God could use us in a specific way.
Hospitality is an essential step to evangelism. In terms of outreach, the most effective evangelism occurs within the context of relationships. Presbyterians typically spend too much time at church and do not make the effort to connect in deep and meaningful ways with those on the outside of our church. Through meaningful relationships, we earn the trust of people before we are able to share with them our story of God’s transforming love.
What would our denomination look like if Presbyterians became more aggressive hospitality seekers during the Christmas season? In cities all over America, we could host Christmas gatherings in our homes where Christians and people outside the church were together for a meal, a Christmas sing-a-long, or a warm drink? What if the church decided to not offer the annual Christmas Eve service at church and hold Christmas Eve services in neighbor’s homes, convalescent centers, or town halls? What would it look like if the church did not expect others to come to our doors at Christmas, and we intentionally went out into the community to demonstrate the love of Christ by volunteering at a homeless shelter, nursing home, hospital, retirement community, or at a local shopping mall? If loneliness is prevalent during the Christmas season, why couldn’t we provide some kind of way to befriend people who are lonely? When was the last time we invited an international student to our Christmas dinner?
I have heard hospitality stories of Christian couples who invited non-Christian friends to a local movie theater. They watched a movie that had thought-provoking themes. Afterwards they gathered over coffee and talked into the night about Christian perspectives on life and faith. The key is the availability to be used by God in a hospitality setting. Seasonal hospitality opportunities are perfect ways we can tangibly be the hands, feet, and good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope this Christmas season is filled with numerous opportunities to demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ.
ERIC HOEY is director of the evangelism and church growth department, PC(USA) General Assembly Council, Louisville, Ky.