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Welcoming Advent

Hospitality is that wonderful gift of welcoming the stranger. The people of the Bible could not have survived without it. God’s people were once strangers in Egypt and in the Promised Land, but they could never quite settle on what to do with the strangers in their communities. On one hand, for most of the ancient world, the stranger was an unknown presence who probably needed to be driven away. But many people also approached each day with an expectation that the day might contain messages addressed to them. The Bible wants us to know that welcoming a stranger can bring us close to an experience with God.

Remember Abraham’s gesture of hospitality in Genesis 18?  From the door of his tent, looking east, he sees three figures coming toward him in the heat of the day. They look like ordinary people.  Abraham runs out to meet them with gestures of welcoming, offering rest, water and food. These ordinary strangers bring a promise that Isaac will be born, a promise beyond Sarah and Abraham’s comprehension.  This is the story in the background of the Christian teaching in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Jesus’ ministry was dependent on hospitality. He sent out his disciples with these words: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” (Matt. 10:9-11) Living before the hospitality of others helps us see why Jesus emphasized care for the strangers in his disciples’ midst: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these sisters and brothers of mine, you have done it to me.” (Matt. 25:35, 40)

We worship and pray in Advent, preparing to welcome Christ at Christmas. But he comes to us, in the words of Albert Schweitzer, “as One unknown.” Jesus comes to us as a stranger.

You might push back because Christ is no stranger to us. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, doesn’t make waves.  His name is already on our tongues.  He is already one of the family.  He is one of us. We just need to smooth some of the rough edges and not remind ourselves that he was seen as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. We’ll need to forget that he came into the world and the world knew him not, that he came unto his own, and his own did not know him. We need to forget that Jesus was, in fact, a stranger.

He was born in the same way we all were and would create chaos in your house just like any child would do if you invite him in. He wandered away from his parents in the big city and worried them to death. John baptized him, and John eventually wondered if he got the right one. He was a stranger to his disciples, friends, mother, siblings and his enemies.  He taught in a way no one really completely understood. In obedience, he did and said what only a person could do and say who was wholly and completely surrendered to the will of God. His life ended in a way that was uglier than any of us could ever imagine.  Now, is that really the kind of person you want in your life?

Being a stranger doesn’t mean that he is distant or unapproachable.  This is a stranger who is full of wonder, who fills our lives with amazement and astonishment. This one who is beyond our containment is the one who brings God near as Emmanuel, “God With Us.”

The paradox of the Advent journey to Christmas is that we think we’re busy welcoming the strange Jesus as our guest. But we have it backward, this stranger is the host in a new order, and welcomes us to the table of a great banquet feast of love, welcome, grace and forgiveness. We are secure and offered a place in his Father’s house. We don’t invite him into our lives at Christmas. He first invites us. Christ the stranger comes to us, and invites all who would listen, “Come, be my guest and follow me – all the way home.”

Grace and Peace,

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