Practicing Hospitality

By Joanne Holz

The celebrations of Christmas are over. We mentally shift toward a new year and all that the year may hold for us. There is an aspect of the story of Christmas, however, that is meant to be a year round practice: biblical hospitality.

We are more apt to host guests in our home or intentionally provide contexts in which family, friends and colleagues gather to enjoy the company of those we cherish. Those celebrations are symbolic of what it means to practice biblical hospitality. The Old Testament concept of hospitality was to welcome strangers and immigrants into God’s family in order to care for them by offering food and shelter. Hospitality was a much-needed practice when hotels and highways were lacking. It is a much-needed practice today – as set forth by Jesus.

New Testament hospitality is the combination of two concepts: philao which means brotherly love; and, xenos which means stranger or immigrant. The thread of Old Testament practices in the realm of hospitality continued with Jesus. However, as you would expect from moving from law to grace, Jesus’ teaching extends the practice of hospitality even further.

The word translated as stranger or immigrant can also be translated as enemy. Hospitality is not difficult to practice when we are able to give to make the lives of others better. It is far more difficult to practice when we are expected to offer hospitality to our enemies. Jesus’ teaching is clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 44-48)

Further, our enemies may not be from another country or culture. They may be those just like Jesus endured:  in our own family of origin, friends who have turned on us, those with whom we work and/or worship. Jesus intends us to be hospitable in the act of forgiveness to whomever our enemy may be. This, after all, is really the spirit of this season and the lived reality of Jesus.

Jesus came to be hosted by this world in the form of taking on flesh and blood to live among us.  He did not find much hospitality in his own family of origin or his own faith community. In fact, the Gospels record the cruel ways in which Jesus was treated by his own people. In a very real way, however, Jesus moved from guest to host, by extending hospitality to those who longed to turn from their alienation and estrangement to God in order to become part of his family. Our sinful nature and sinful acts manifest our enmity with God. His Son extends the hospitality of God to each of us, offering forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration in our hearts and in our relationships.

Perhaps the New Year will be a time for you, as it is for me, to reflect on the hospitality of God as the model we choose to live out in our own lives. This is the Christmas story that continues.  Happy New Year!

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