Christmas may be long past, but the One who gave us His Son wrapped in strips of cloth that day is the Giver who keeps on giving. He gives the gifts of generosity and hospitality to His people day-in and day-out. These gifts are hard to hang onto. Nonetheless, trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance makes selfishness and self-indulgence look foolish, cheap, and quite unnecessary. Trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance pours generosity and hospitality into the way we think and the way we experience life.
One thing you must admire about old Ebenezer Scrooge is his zeal and fervor in the practice of his religion. Ebenezer—his parents must have been Bible readers and they blessed their son with the commission to be a “stone of help”—found his not so solid rock on which to base his life in his material wealth. He clearly was not an investment banker, or he would have known better. For Mammon washes away like sand. It does not stand in the flood like a rock. Scrooge needed the help that the love of Little Timmy and his family could give him. He himself became a source of help, but only through conversion by the generosity and hospitality of the Cratchits.
Our culture cultivates the spirit of Scrooge incessantly through the portrayals of the “good life” in celebrities who flaunt their riches and through advertisements for products we do not need and bombard us from every side. We are taught day-in and day-out that acquisition of stuff makes success. But our stuff is so over-manufactured we can speak of “planned obsolescence,” artificially constructed weaknesses in products which guarantee a future market for the manufacturer. Such abuses of God’s material blessings, without thought for the needs of future generations, helps us forget those who come after us. It also erases our consciousness of the Creator who has come before all things. Throw-away, disposable sources of identity, security, or meaning render our lives disposable, too.
Throw-away, disposable sources of identity, security, or meaning render our lives disposable, too.
As a person grows older in North America in the early twenty-first century, one of the problems which plague us is accumulation. Often I hear in my circle of people my age, “What are the kids going to do with all this stuff?” We feel the burden of responsibility that accumulation of material blessings brings with it, not only proper use but proper disposal. Accumulation of the things we enjoy, at some point, only rust and attract moths. These “toys” take up space. Getting rid of them requires calling large-item-pickup at the local garbage disposal firm, because much of what once were our prize possessions have become garbage. Life itself loses its worth and tarnishes its shine when everything else becomes cheap and transitory.
In some societies generosity still takes form in the widow’s mite, her last penny, but often in ours it involves no sacrifice at all. God has given a majority of the United States population more than enough resources of goods and time to demonstrate generosity, but we resist even trying to learn the pleasures of giving. We stretch our muscles till it hurts gladly, taking pride in muscle tone and strength. But we avoid stretching our bank accounts till it hurts and miss out on the delight of giving generously and thus becoming special participants in the providence of God.
Trusting in our Creator, who has revealed His love and generosity in paying the price of His own human life on the Cross, frees us from the bondage of self-indulgence, of finding the good life in receiving and taking rather than giving. Christ’s freely giving of His life on our behalf liberates us from needing to secure our own lives by guarding the gifts He has given us so tightly that we cannot lose them from our grasp. But if we have regarded and treated His gifts as our lifeblood and breath rather than seeing Him as the source of life and breath, this grasp grips our throat and chokes the life and breath out of us. The Holy Spirit, who breathes the life of trusting our Lord into us, leads us to dispose of God’s many gifts in ways displayed by our Lord during His time on earth. The Spirit cultivates in us the practice of the kind of lifestyle our Lord models for us, His image of the good life.
Generous believers reflect on what the impact of their generosity will be. They do not share and give for their own good feeling but for the well-being of the recipient of their sharing, what they have received from God’s bounteous hand. Believers are called to decide when to teach someone in need how to fish, when to supply that person a fishing pole, and when the needy simply must be fed the fish.
One form of generosity which touches other lives becomes concrete in our hospitality. Hospitality embodies a generous spirit and opens our lives to special people in special ways. Hospitality came naturally in the land of Canaan around Mamre. Abraham and Sarah did not think twice about opening their home to the three strangers—angels unaware, indeed (Genesis 18). The Lord commanded the Israelites to welcome sojourners and strangers, immigrants and asylum-seekers, and to regard them as part of their people. “You shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). All European-Americans share this story.
My own ancestors came from Germany to flee the Prussian draft and seek cheap land since the property and economy in our native Thuringia no longer supported the family. My Norwegian ancestors simply came to improve their economic situation. Life was hard along the Atlantic coast of Norway in the 1860’s. Paul required leaders of the congregation of Christ’s people to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:8). Along with affection and honor for fellow believers, zeal for the Lord, glowing with the Spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patience in tribulation, and contentment with prayer, Paul believed all believers would naturally be contributing to meet the needs of others. All Christians delight, he was certain, in practicing the hospitality the life of faith and enjoyment of the mercies of God produce in each believer’s life, as the Apostle wrote to the Romans (12:10-13). The writer to the Hebrews observed that such hospitality can result in our entertaining angels unawares (13:2). Dale Evans, the actress of two generations ago, used this Hebrews passage to entitle her book on the experience of her husband Roy Rogers and herself in receiving and caring for a severely handicapped child, a book sub-titled “A touching story of love and loss.” Christian hospitality and generosity often do involve certain kinds of “loss,” and they always involve love.
Christian hospitality and generosity often do involve certain kinds of “loss,” and they always involve love.
Hospitality opens our lives as a home to others—a home where we know their names, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and needs. Hospitality is making, however briefly, a home where, as Robert Frost says, we take others in when they have no other place to go.
Hospitality expresses our thanks to God for the blessings we have.
Hospitality opens not only our homes to others, but it also opens our calendars and our heartfelt concern. Hospitality invites others into our lives not only spatially, around our dinner table, but also in terms of the sacrifice of time with the lost and lonely. The hospitable hand reaches out to embrace the autistic child. It learns some words in sign language to be able to make a deaf neighbor feel at home with us. The mouth with a spirit of hospitality speaks with the lame and the blind about the weather and sports, forgetting about the other person’s challenges for the moment.
Christ gathers His people around Himself at His Supper table. His generosity offers the hospitality of the meal at which He is both host and main course. He brings us in, off the paths and byways of life, to enjoy the communion which joins us to one another and to Himself. His meal fills us up with the rich fare of His forgiveness, righteousness, and new life. At the altar rail those He has made to be the elite meet to eat, as was said of the neighborhood elite at Duffey’s Tavern in the days of the classic radio program in my childhood.
From His table we depart into His world. There we who can count on the hospitality and generosity of our God find delight and joy in giving witness to the ultimate generosity of Jesus Christ on the cross through our own meeting of others as His generous and hospitable people.