Advent devotion: Open-arms hospitality
Hospitality. When we think of hospitality this season we might think of an invitation to a friend’s home. We arrive to see candles in the window and receive a warm hug at the door. Everything is festive: trees are decorated with sparkly, white lights; a serene Nativity is surrounded by evergreen boughs; wreaths are decorated with plaid bows. We are offered sparkling wine or special eggnog with a bit of spirits, and we delight in the “heavy” hors d’oeuvres that cover the dining room table as we listen to I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. This is hospitality and we enjoy the gala time with friends.
Mathew 25 presents us with another view of hospitality when Jesus talks about faith and service. He says, “Come you who are blessed by my Father…. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me.” This hospitality is evident on Brady Street with our hill-top neighbors at the Madison Marketplace, sponsored by St. Paul.
The second and fourth Tuesdays of each month the scene is open-arms hospitality. Early in the morning St. Paul members unload boxes from the River Bend Foodbank, including canned and baked goods, cereal, frozen food, fresh fruits and vegetables, health care products, and clothing donated by St. Paul members. Later, more folks set up the inviting market with blue-and-white checkered table cloths, grocery carts, and a welcome table to check in the 41 families selected by the staff of Madison School who are in desperate need of this food support.
Then the doors open and the families file in. Warm hospitality is everywhere. A St. Paul member welcomes them by name, and another assists the family around the market. Still another member is rocking a seven-day-old baby so Mom can shop, while another is passing out fruit drinks and granola bars to the hungry kids accompanying mom or dad. Someone else is offering free hair cuts, and another is offering an extra bag of frozen chicken to a family of nine – all while a busy crew is packing up their boxes of food to load into their cars (or drive them home if they have no car!). This is hospitality. As Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
As I ponder this holy season, I think of pregnant Mary and anxious Joseph making two difficult journeys – one to Bethlehem and another as refugees to Egypt. Did they receive any hospitality beside the one inn keeper that gave them a stable?! I hope so.
Jeanne Olsen is a retired hospital chaplain and now volunteers at Madison Marketplace, Café on Vine, The Figge and Genesis hospital (with her pet therapy dog Sophie). She and her husband Paul live in Bettendorf.