Let me tell you a little story. Maybe you’ve heard it before, but stick with me.
There once was a lovely couple expecting a baby. For reasons beyond their control, they had to go on a long and difficult journey right before the woman was to be delivered. Now, this couple knew no one in the town to which they were traveling and, due to the woman’s condition slowing them down, they were pretty late to the gathering and couldn’t find anywhere to stay. Again and again, they reached out to people, hoping that they would find a welcome and that their needs would be met. It was getting later and later, and they were losing hope.
Enter a humble innkeeper. He was taking care of the guests already overflowing his small establishment when the man and woman knocked on his door. At first, he told them that he, too, had no vacancy. There was no more room in his inn. But then, he saw the woman’s condition and was moved to help them. He had a stable. It wasn’t very nice or clean, but it was shelter. If they were willing to overlook the inconveniences, he was willing to extend his hospitality to these weary travelers. He did this without formality and without concern about how the type of lodging might reflect on him. He saw a need and he generously gave what he had to the strangers.
I think we all know how the story ends.
What is Christian Hospitality?
Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
What do you think of when you hear the word hospitality? Maybe you think of dinner parties or a beautiful home. Restaurants or hotels might come to mind. You’re not wrong!
Webster’s Dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”
So, what is Christian hospitality? I’d venture that it is exactly as Webster describes, but done for the greater honor and glory of God. In other words, it’s all about your motive and purpose.
Any time you welcome people into your home – no matter how messy or neat, large or small, informal or formal – you are sharing Christian hospitality. But how should you spend your time while others are there?
My husband and I recently hosted a birthday party for a friend. About thirty people attended the gathering at our home. I was constantly flitting around tending to this and refilling that while everyone else ate and talked and laughed. One of our guests, a very sweet deacon, approached me and said, “Have a seat, Martha. Don’t you see that everything is going well and people are having a good time?”
I was so busy trying to make things perfect (and inadvertently placing the focus on myself and how my home was to be perceived) that I had lost focus on the Christ-centered reason for our party (making our friend feel special and enjoying fellowship together).
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her (Luke 10:38-42).
The Pros and Cons of Entertaining
Not everyone is given the charism of hospitality in the classic sense, and that’s fine! However, we are all called to show love to our neighbor. Jesus told us that whatever we do to the least of his people, we do to Him. Shouldn’t that always be our goal?
Sure, welcoming people into our home can be nerve-wracking. Doing so during the joyous chaos of the holiday season can be even more difficult. And what if you are an introvert? Or a tiny army of toddlers makes it impossible to keep your house clean? Maybe you think your home is too small, funds are too tight, or your capabilities in the kitchen are less “Julia Child” and more just “child.” These are all valid concerns; but don’t let them stop you from extending Christian hospitality.
Just in case the thought of welcoming people in during arguably the craziest time of year makes you break out in hives, let me give you a few easy, helpful hints:
- Keep some cookie dough in the fridge to bake on a last-minute basis (storebought is just fine, ladies!). Company dropping by? Neighbors bring you a holiday treat and you need to reciprocate? You’re covered!
- Find a candle or essential oil combination you think smells divine and have it at the ready. Candlelight and homey smells are great for making your house feel welcoming.
- Keep tasty beverages on hand. Pick up some holiday coffee, tea, and creamer and a nice bottle of wine. That way, you’re prepared to offer any guests refreshment no matter what time of day surprise visits happen!
- Take just a few minutes each day to clean up your entryway. It’s so much easier to open the door in a confident and loving way when you don’t have to kick seventeen pairs of shoes out of the way.
Opening your home during the holidays is an excellent opportunity to practice the corporal works of mercy. You’ll get the chance to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, sure. But did you think you might also get to provide shelter to the homeless or visit the imprisoned?
Who and How
Who are the homeless and imprisoned in our lives? Who are the people – the ones we see every day in our neighborhoods or at Mass – we could offer shelter and love through a simple invitation? Take a look around you. Do you see a new family down the street or in that pew two rows ahead of you? Do you know of someone at work or in your small group that has no family in town? What about the elderly man or woman whose spouse recently died and whose children live far away? Maybe you live on military installation and yours is one of many families who are new to the area. All of these situations offer us the opportunity to extend Christian hospitality to others.
None of us needs to feel, though, that inviting others into our home means that we need to be the sole provider of food and entertainment. Here are some ideas of easy ways to open our homes without breaking the bank.
Host an intentional open house.
This is a great way to reach the margins. Select an afternoon or evening to open your home for people to drop by. Be specific in who you invite and concentrate on one group of people in particular. Some to consider would be the elderly, new families to the school or church, brand new moms, or newlyweds. You can work together with a friend to host it and everyone can bring an appetizer or dessert to share.
Host a brunch.
Have all of your evenings filled up with parties and concerts and other obligations? Consider an event earlier in the day. Maybe host a Blessed Brunch or invite everyone on your street over for coffee and donuts.
Plan a cookie/gingerbread house decorating party!
This is a great one for families with kids. Make or buy a bunch of cookies. Set up some tables and chairs (and maybe a drop cloth or two). Ask everyone attending to bring decorating supplies. There will be tons of sugary fun!
Really, the possibilities are endless. It just takes some imagination. And remember, when all else fails…Pinterest!
Think back to the innkeeper. He didn’t have a perfect place for the Holy Family to stay. It wasn’t the cleanest or the fanciest. There wasn’t any extravagant entertainment planned in their honor. What he did have was a willing heart and an open door. Jesus asks nothing more and nothing less from us this Christmas.
Take the time, take the chance, and open yourself to the beauty of Christian hospitality. In showing love to others, you show it to Jesus himself. And, like it says in the letter to the Hebrews…
Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (Hebrews 13:2)
What are some ways you practice Christian hospitality during the holidays? Let’s share ideas in the comments below!
Written by Beth Williby. Find out more about her here.