Date: December 3, 2017
Title: “The Art of Christmas – Hospitality”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. It is four weeks before Christmas, and this season of Advent, with its themes of watching and waiting and anticipating God’s arrival, is a time for us to prepare for Christmas. So, Advent must be a time of quiet reflection and contemplation, right? It must be a season of lazy days and early nights, of uncrowded roads and quiet stores. It must be four weeks of uncluttered calendars, a time of leisure and laziness.
What? You say that doesn’t match your experience of the season? You say the picture you might paint of these four weeks prior to Christmas would look less like some artist’s conception of a “silent night” and more like Brian Kershisnik’s idea of nativity, which is full of color and strife and crowds and action (you can find it at this link: https://annlaemmlenlewis.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/the-nativity-kershisnik-0011.jpg)
Does your experience of the “Art of Christmas” have less to do with silence than with stress, is less concerned with leisure than with labor, and looks more like consumption than contemplation? If so… you are probably in good company, and it may be helpful to reconsider The Art of Christmas.
Which is precisely what we will be doing in these next few weeks. If you think about “art” not only as a product of creativity… but also as a way of being in the world, there is much we can say about the “art” of Christmas. How we will prepare for it, and how we will receive, and most importantly, how we will live Christmas out… these are all great questions for a community such as ours, and for each of us who call ourselves a Christian.
Today, I would suggest, that one of the essential “arts” of Christmas is that of hospitality. Much has been made of the failure of hospitality in the Christmas story. We like to feel superior, to harshly judge the innkeeper who turns a very pregnant Mary out into a stable, claiming there is “no room in the inn.” So we go to great lengths to shower our guests with all the finest crystal and silver, with soft beds and clean sheets, with tables laden to overflowing with food and drink.
And yet, this is not the point of Advent, not even the lesson of Christmas.
The thing is, there is a difference between “entertaining” and “hospitality”. Entertaining means being the host or hostess. It means making sure that our guests have a good time, that we bring out our finest and we treat each guest as a visitor to our home. To entertain means to perform – to be “on” the entire time we have guests at home at all.
Hospitality, on the other hand, goes beyond all that. Hospitality is opening the door of your house and welcoming people into not only your space, but also your life. Hospitality means taking the apostle Paul’s instructions seriously, for this season and for our lives.
The images here are powerful. Paul tells us our love is to be genuine. We are not to put on airs or pretend, but to honestly pay attention to someone other than ourselves. We are to be eager to honor the other. We are to be open to God’s Spirit, even to the point of being set on fire with enthusiasm and joy. He tells us to be devoted to our prayer life, and participate in meeting the needs of others as we pursue hospitality. Paul would remind us that this kind of hospitality is fervent, it is relentless, it is practical…because it is a certain mindset. Christine Pohl puts it this way:
As an act of love, or an expression of faith, our hospitality reflects and anticipates God’s welcome.
When we gather around the Communion table, and when we take the grace we find here out into the world, we are practicing the Art of Christmas Hospitality – reflecting and anticipating God’s welcome. We can do this in a thousand little ways – when we say hello to the bus driver; when we engage the supermarket cashier in friendly conversation; when we hold the door for someone coming in behind us; when we walk into a room and to speak to the lone individual standing by themselves while everyone else is clustered in conversation. We do it when we listen deeply, without being busy formulating our response, and when we recognize the dignity and worth of every single person we meet, even those we do not like, then we are practicing the art of Christmas and living with a mindset of hospitality.
The genuine love which Romans presents as the basis for hospitality is not simply some sugarplum-sweet vision dancing in our heads. Rather, It is love with the power to overcome boredom and disinterest. It is love with the power to eradicate isolation and loneliness. It is love with the power to transform evil with good.
Not long ago, the small town of Wunseidel, in northeast Germany, put this kind of love into their practice of Christmas hospitality …
When a group of neo-Nazi’s announced plans to hold a march in their town, some Christians came up with a brilliant plan of response.
They decided to gather pledges of financial support for an organization against Nazism… for every meter the Nazi’s walked, people pledged a euro or two or ten. All along the marchers’ route, they found writing on the street, thanking them for raising so much money to fight hate.
They even found water tables along the route, where volunteers handed out bottles of water to “thank” the marchers…
Now the people of Wunseidel could have tried to counter evil with evil. They could have lined the parade route and shouted jeering taunts at the marchers.
They could have thrown insults or traded barbs, they could have painted signs and clenched fists and tried their best to push back against hate with hate. But instead, they overcame evil with good; they met hate with hospitality.
My prayer for all of us this season is that we might learn to do the same, that we might practice the Art of Christmas which is hospitality, and that therefore our love will indeed be genuine. Thanks be to God! Amen.