The Feast is for Hospitality
Christmas has become a time of unrivaled charity. Much-needed donations will be made this time of year to groups that feed the homeless, serve the poor, and provide toys for children. Charities that limp along all year may joyfully find themselves receiving a donation or two that helps put them in the black, enabling them to carry on their good work. Praise God for the work that charities do, and praise God for the givers who keep them running!
But Christmas is also a time when we should remember the more important, and often overlooked, Kingdom work of hospitality. We see Jesus talking about the Kingdom value of welcoming others into our homes here in Luke 14.12-14, in the parable spoken to those who would host only those that are easy to embrace.
In this very relevant teaching as we prepare our Christmas feasts, Jesus tells us that, when we make a feast, we should not only invite our friends and relatives, but also those who are without a home, without family, who have no place to go; and Jesus goes out of his way to list the types of people we should be inviting to our Christmas tables, including very specifically those who may be inconvenient, undesirable, or make us uncomfortable.
You see, while charity is good, hospitality is even better.
Charity is temporary.
Love at arm’s length.
“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12.8)
Hospitality is eternal.
Love’s full embrace.
“And you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14.14, NIV)
The key difference between charity and hospitality is this: Charity loves at arms length, while hospitality extends loves’ full embrace of another person.
Which do you suppose more closely resembles the reason we celebrate Christmas – the incarnation of Jesus Christ? Does God offer cold charity – tossing cash out his car window? Or does He teach us the value of hospitality, coming to our table, and treating us as His closest friends?
Charity can be distant and impersonal. Hospitality, on the other hand, is up-close and personal. Would we rather put a toy in a barrel – charity – or spend an hour with a child whose daddy is lost overseas – hospitality? Which one is needed more? That toy will be forgotten in five minutes; that conversation will be remembered for a lifetime.
Charity is relatively safe. Hospitality, however, can be very risky. Is it safer to write a check to the food bank or invite a wounded soul to dinner? And which would really help that person more? I am ashamed to tell you that I have been thinking hard lately about the price I’d pay to avoid the risk keeping fellowship with someone who is undesirable. Is it worth a dollar? Ten dollars? A hundred? What amount could I give that would make me feel as though I cared on a personal level? Is there any amount of charity I could give that would come close to the transforming power of hospitality? Will cold hard cash have the same impact as welcoming a hurting brother into the warm embrace of true fellowship?
Charity treats human beings as objects of pity, perpetuating victimhood. Hospitality treats human beings as brothers and sisters, as equal children under God, paving the way for victory.
Charity can only provide temporary relief, while hospitality offers eternal hope, because hospitality addresses our eternal needs for belonging, acceptance, and love.
Fear of Hospitality
Why do we revert to the distant work of charity when Jesus so clearly call sus to the personal work of hospitality? The root of the problem is fear. Fear of exposure, fear of loss, fear of contamination. And yet, perfect love in Christ casts out all fear.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4.18)
Because we are afraid of becoming entangled in the lives of others, we have institutionalized love, and separated ourselves from the personal blessing of fellowship with God’s children. Organized charities have made it so that we can more efficiently feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, provide clothing for the naked, and health care for the sick. But that efficiency has come at a great cost, because it has also taught us the dirty trick of loving one another at arm’s length. We have isolated ourselves from risk, but we have also weakened and diminished our witness, because love at arm’s length is ultimately powerless to save.
Charity cannot lift a soul out of poverty. Only hospitality’s daring embrace of love can provide an environment where that kind of change is possible. Charity cannot provide a sense of belonging, of mattering, of having a purpose, in the way that the equal footing of a shared table and hospitality can. Charity cannot provide the vital context of fellowship and community – the roux of transformation – in the way that simple hospitality does. He who eats the bread of charity will eat for a day, but he who eats the bread of heaven, shared in the context of fellowship and hospitality, will never hunger again.
If we want to see the poor become rich, the broken restored, and the lame made whole, we must move beyond the sterility of distant charity, and hear the Lord’s call to extend our homes and our tables into the banquet halls of healing hospitality.
The Incarnation: Love’s Full Embrace
Which brings us to Christmas. The very nature of Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation, God made flesh and bone. His love was not given at arm’s length, but in the very vulnerable hospitality of love’s full embrace.
Think of the risk God took by coming as a child born in a stable! He could have been just as content to keep us at arm’s length. He could have simply shown us charity. But He knew that charity would only go so far. What each of us needed was a personal encounter with a savior. Arm’s length would never do. Our transformation could only come through the fullness of God’s embrace.
And so it must be with us. This is something that God’s people are uniquely suited for, and that no other agency can offer.
Your table, when shared in hospitality, holds more life-changing power than 10,000 assistance programs. For programs can only provide the quickly vanishing help of food and shelter; while our open tables can provide the eternal gift of belonging. Of inclusion. Of embrace. Of God’s love.
As we seek to transform our community and our world in the name of Jesus, may we never slip into the comfort of charity over the transforming power of hospitality. May we be willing to take the same risk our Lord did at Christmas and get up-close and personal with those we would perhaps rather exclude. May we never be afraid to extend love’s full embrace to those who are outsiders and outcasts.
May the grace of our Lord find incarnation through your hospitality this Christmas. May he put someone in your path that you will invite into your home, to your table, and under His grace today.