This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by James LaBarr.
The expected birth of a child requires preparation. A due date brings along the gift of nine months to get ready to welcome a new life into the world. In this time of preparation we discover hospitality as a virtue vital to Advent.
Jesus did not receive a particularly hospitable welcome upon his birth. During his final days in womb Luke reminds us there was no room available for Joseph and a pregnant Mary. Matthew tells us that King Herod ordered an infanticide in attempt to have the newborn Messiah killed. And John puts it bluntly: he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. The world was hostile, not hospitable, to the Son of God.
Yet there were some who welcomed Jesus. Most notably, Mary the mother of Jesus demonstrated a hospitable heart. When the angel announced her impending motherhood we sense the deep welcome of hospitality in Mary’s final response: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 TNIV). Mary was willing to prepare for the baby that God was sending her—hospitality.
Welcoming a child into the world requires more than just hospitality of physical preparation, but the preparation of a hospitable heart. My wife and I have lived this four times over as we prepared for the birth of our daughters.
Late in each pregnancy “nesting” occurred—that inexplicable urge expectant mothers feel to clean, organize, and de-clutter to prepare our physical space for this new little person who would call our house home. Our nest was then filled with all the necessary baby gear: strollers, car seats, carriers, changing tables, crib, portable crib, swinging seat, mountains of clothing, piles of toys, and more.
But once our daughters were born we became acutely aware that preparing for a baby involves more than merely preparing physical space. We needed to clear out other kinds of space in our lives to welcome our child.
Our babies didn't care to align with our ideal schedule so we had to be hospitable with our time. And quick trips to the store took longer with a baby in tow so we had to be hospitable with our attitude. Even our perspective on cleanliness shifted as crushed cheerios on the kitchen floor became less a cleaning crisis and more an acceptable byproduct of a healthy, growing child.
Hospitality goes far beyond a place to sleep and meals; it goes deep into the fiber of who we are and how we live in the world. Hospitality takes root in our heart and spreads to our whole being.
Once again this Advent we have the opportunity to practice such hospitality. Amidst the hustle and bustle we are invited to welcome the stranger with love and grace. As we prepare to welcome the Son of the Most High may we be ready to welcome him as Mary did, both in physical preparation and in heart. May we respond with the same hospitality: “May it be to me according to your word.”
James LaBarr, M.Div.’06, is an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church and serves as pastor of Colonial Heights Free Methodist Church in Niagara Falls, N.Y.