There’s a compelling story that Adele Ahlberg Calhoun tells in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook about an entire French village that risked their lives during World War II extending hospitality by welcoming and sheltering Jews. When a local pastor was asked why the village responded in this way, he replied, “I could not bear to be separated from Jesus.” Indeed, that is the essence of hospitality, a virtue that reflects the belief that when we welcome others we welcome Jesus.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the personification of this virtue. Yet, I used to rarely think of her, except during the Advent season. Even then she was a background performer, as Jesus her newborn son, played the lead. However these days, whenever I think of hospitality, Mary is typically the first person who comes to mind.
After all, since hospitality is making space in our life for God, Mary knows no rival. She who watched Jesus stretch her belly as he shifted his body within hers, who taught him to walk and talk, and who helplessly watched as he embraced and died for a much larger family than her own. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of Mary when he said, “…anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40 CEV).
Initially, there was nothing spectacular about Mary. Perhaps that is why God chose her; because she is so much like us. On the day when she was blindsided by the news that she was going to be a Mom, Mary was a teenager engaged to be married, going through the simple routines of her daily life. Yet, more than anyone in the Bible, Mary embodies hospitality toward God.
When the angel Gabriel told her, “You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out!” (Luke 1:27 MSG) Mary didn’t argue or disagree. Instead she graciously received the affirmation, (although I suspect it was beyond her ability to comprehend). From that moment forward I believe everything that happened in Mary’s life hinged on the extraordinary, explosive, and revolutionary revelation of God’s love for her.
Nonetheless, her openness to the angel’s message did not prevent her from asking a profoundly heartfelt question. Perhaps it was her belief in God’s high favor that made her confident that it was okay to ask, “How can this happen?” which I suspect was more than a biological question. After all, she had well-laid plans for her life that were suddenly being threatened. However, after the angel responded, Mary unreservedly opened herself to God, declaring, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said” (Luke 1:38 CEV).
Pondering Mary’s hospitality I am reminded of these words from Robert Munger’s classic book, My Heart Christ’s Home:
“One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. Something happened at the center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire on the hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been silence. He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will.”
“In the joy of this new relationship I said to Jesus, ‘Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want to have you settle down here and be perfectly at home. Everything that I have belongs to You. Let me show You around.”
These words express the passionate pursuit of my life. I want to spend the remainder of my days keeping company with Jesus while offering His welcoming heart to others.
Join the Conversation:
Has there been a time when you have been welcomed by Jesus through others?
How can you embody the hospitality of God in your daily life?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.