Monday, December 19, 2016

a cold shoulder?

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  Luke 2:4-5

They didn't hop the daily shuttle for the quick flight to Bethlehem.  They didn't climb aboard the megabus for the 2-hour trip down.  No, they walked.  Across rugged, dangerous country.  No smooth Isaiah type holy way for them.  It was uphill and downhill, steep both ways.  It was cold and rainy.  They risked encountering bears and lions along the way, as well as bandits and folks who preyed on the innocent.  We aren't told how long it took them, but given the weather, the locale, the pregnancy, it probably took them at least 9 days to make it from Nazareth to Bethlehem, every step more and more difficult.

We aren't told, as usual, the details of this journey.  But my guess is that as Joseph and Mary traveled, they managed to find a place to rest, a home which provided them hospitality, a shelter from the elements, the animals, the bullies.  Maybe it was accomplished simply by knocking on the door of the nearest house and looking as bedraggled as possible; maybe it was "a friend of a friend of a friend said you might be able to put us up tonight."  Maybe they managed to get the last bed in the local hostel in the village.  We don't know.  But I am guessing that along the way they encountered hospitality, a welcome from strangers they might never meet again, a meal that tasted like something served in a fine restaurant, a bed that floated them into safe dreams - all from nameless, forgotten people along the way of their pilgrimage.

Would we be willing to take in soaked, cold, bedraggled folks knocking at our doors?  Would we be gracious enough to offer hospitality to complete strangers?

Madeleine L'Engle was talking with a friend, a recovering alcoholic, who was planning to drive across country to California.  She would be stopping along the way, sometimes in towns where she did not know a soul.  Concerned for her, L'Engle asked what might happen if her friend was in a motel room, alone, and suddenly faced with wanting to go down to the nearest bar.  "All I would have to do is open the phone book, look up the local chapter of AA," her friend said, "and someone would come and be with me until that longing went away."  Madeleine L'Engle went on to wonder what might happen if she was traveling, found herself in a motel room, lonely.  What would be the response, she asked, if she called a local pastor, saying something along the lines of , "I am a Christian, alone and in your town, and I am afraid I may do something that will take me off my journey with Jesus.  Can you help?"  What would be the response?

Hospitality or a cold shoulder?

Prayer: If we are lucky, we have encountered such hospitality, Host of our hearts.  If we are more fortunate, we are offered the chance to be such gracious hosts to folks who need rest, a meal, a friend.  Open us to such chances, we pray.  Amen.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman

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