Advent: Welcoming Jesus in All His Strangeness

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, I was flying out of the Chicago airport and found myself sitting next to an elderly woman named Joann. Have you ever met someone and somehow knew right away that they were a treasure-trove of depth and experience? This 81-year-old woman was one of those instant connections for me. I initiated conversation, and before you knew it we were laughing over her story of getting run over by a nun at the Vatican and my story of throwing up in the Church of the Nativity (and then fleeing). We were at one point laughing so hard that I feared a flight attendant would come and tell us to quiet down.

Before we disembarked, Joann offered to give me a ride to my next destination and even kindly offered her home for me to stay the night. She wrote down both her home and cell phone numbers on a napkin so I could call her if I ever came back to Kansas City (she wants to take me out to dinner and give me a tour of all of her favorite parts of KC).

I left that plane that day in awe over this stranger's kindness and hospitality. She didn't really even know me. I wasn't "her people" - I was from a strange place called Columbus, Ohio. And yet she genuinely cared enough about me to invite me into her world. I don't know if I'll ever find myself back in KC, but there's great comfort in knowing that I already have a friend there.

Ever since this interaction, I haven't been able to stop thinking about how much hospitality has to do with Advent. 

I think about how Mary had to travel from her hometown of Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem, where she stayed with Joseph's extended family in their courtyard (not a barn at an inn as we tend to imagine). Even though they were technically family, they were strangers to the newly-wed Mary (and maybe even to Joseph).

I think about how the shepherds came to welcome this new baby, even though they were complete strangers to this visiting family. How chaotic it must have been to have a band of strangers packed together with Joseph's family in the tiny courtyard! Yet, Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

And then Jesus grew up, and I think about all the times that Jesus was denied hospitality. Baby Jesus was welcomed with open arms, but adult Jesus was chased out of towns, scorned by the rich and the powerful, and ultimately killed in a way that was reserved for the most shameful of crimes.

Advent reminds us that Jesus became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. But it also reminds us that we did not receive him. Jesus was born in the world that he made, yet "the world did not recognize him" (John 1:10-14).

We as a culture tend to love the "holy infant so tender and mild," but adult Jesus is more difficult to contend with. Adult Jesus challenges our priorities, our motives, our hearts, our wants. Adult Jesus scatters those who are proud and brings down rulers from their thrones. Adult Jesus fills the hungry but sends the rich away empty (Luke 2:51-53).

We can relate to baby Jesus, tender and mild, but adult Jesus is a stranger to us from a very, very strange place.

But, oh, how I long to be like Joann! How I long to have a heart that overflows with generosity toward that which is strange. How I long to invite Jesus and all his wild kingdom ways into my world. How I long for Jesus to know that he has place here on earth with me.

How I long to extend radical hospitality so that Jesus, in all his strangeness, becomes that which is most familiar. 

Before he left this earth, Jesus talked about how he was going away to prepare a place for his followers (John 14:1-4). Jesus understands very well what hospitality means. But maybe Advent is an opportunity for our hearts to "prepare him room," too.

And when we prepare room for both baby Jesus and adult Jesus, all of heaven and nature sing.

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