Our home has a Christ room. The room is simple, outfitted with an enormous depiction of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son,” and remains intentionally open for short-term stays of all kinds.
We have hosted family members and friends (and friends of friends), kindred community-cultivators, monks and nuns, refugees, respite-seekers and people yearning for imaginative expressions of a peaceful way together. Each person has become a treasured guest and friend, and each one has revealed Jesus to us.
The Christ room is a sacred space and sharing it with others is a practice that is vital to our home. We are coming to understand Howard Thurman’s wisdom: “Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, those unknown and undiscovered.” Our hope is to welcome others, as Christ has welcomed us, to the glory of God (Romans 15:7) and also to receive others as we would receive Jesus.
The formation and centrality of our Christ room was originally inspired by stories of early Christians, most poignantly in Chapter 53 of Benedict’s Rule: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ Himself, for He is going to say, ‘[I was] a stranger and you welcomed me.’” (Mt. 25:35).
I am grateful to live in a home that is a peculiar outpost of God’s kingdom-vision for hospitality. We are an intergenerational community of folks of all abilities seeking to participate in the beauty of the gospel through all the littleness that comes with homemaking, caring for one another, praying together and welcoming others into our daily life. It often feels like we are frail and wobbly in this participation and so we praise God for our reliance on mercy.
A few years ago, as we approached Advent season, our little community excitedly accepted an opportunity to welcome someone into the Christ room for a short-term stay. Lucia was introduced to us through a local refugee resettlement support organization. We were told she was seven months pregnant and needed a place to stay for a few nights as longer-term plans were being sorted out. She was set to fly in from Rwanda on a flight that arrived around midnight.
An eager energy stormed through our home, infusing our preparation with life and joy and hopeful anticipation. For the few days leading up to her arrival, each of us did our part in getting ready: Tony made the bed in the Christ room with precise attention to detail while others of us made sure the room was stocked with towels, toiletries and a vase of fresh flowers. Bonnie made her famous lemon and honey sweet tea. Ms. T and Erin, as the resident socialites, thoughtfully planned out ways to welcome and connect our incoming guest within our wider network of friends and neighbors. We tidied and cleaned and went to the grocery store. By grace we were able to channel the vitality of hopeful anticipation in these ordinary, concrete tasks of ready-making.
I wonder how our invitation to readiness in Advent can be expressed in ordinary, concrete ways. It is clear to me that hospitality involves all the mundane, hidden gestures of ready-making.
Lucia arrived at 1 a.m. and there we were, most of us in the house, waiting with an enthusiasm rare for that hour of night. We all stood on our back deck sharing smiles and hugs and trying our best to connect without the luxury of a common language. We felt so ready for her. And it turns out, she was ready for us. Or, at least, she was ready to take a deep breath on the soil of the United States with a place to lay her head. The rest of the story casts a miraculous light on the whole encounter.
It turns out Lucia was in labor. And, according to the doctors, she had been for quite a while. She courageously endured much of the night, waiting until 6 a.m. to knock on the bedroom door next to hers as she was holding her stomach, doubling over in pain. Erin, whose very way in the world proclaims what it means to be alert for Jesus’ coming in surprising situations, responded with love and care. The two of them went to the hospital. The combination of language barrier and intensity of labor resulted in a wild ride, and within an hour of settling into their hospital room a baby named Blessing was born safe and healthy. We knew the baby’s name before knowing Lucia’s full name.
After the fact, we heard from doctors that the situation was unlike anything they had seen before, positing that Lucia had likely been laboring since before the long flight from Rwanda. By grace and sheer determination she persevered to cross over the ocean and safely deliver this baby. God was readying her, without her even knowing it. What a miracle!
Mary, on her own pilgrim journey while great with child, determined to safely deliver her own baby blessing that would bless the whole world. Mary, hosting God’s Son in her body, traveled among strangers and searched for a place to give birth in a foreign town. The Divine entered humanity; what was human hosted the Divine.
For Mary and for Lucia, it all came about in a way that couldn’t be predicted or controlled — simply received as a gift.
The Rembrandt painting, the existence of our Christ room, Lucia’s story — they all can make us susceptible to the temptation of thinking we are the primary ones offering welcome.
And yet Advent grounds us somewhere different. Advent invites us into the reality of God’s initiative. In creation and redemption, God has breathed all life into existence and made space for ever-new life. God is the Great Welcomer. In Christ, God makes home with us and invites us to make a home in this same radically welcoming love.
As we prepare to welcome Christ’s presence in our own hearts and daily lives and communities this Advent, may we remember God’s relentless hospitality, always making room for abundant and free life. It may come in ordinary ways or in the most unexpected of ways, but may we receive the grace to attentively listen and to respond with a radical readiness, saying “yes” through our own welcome of Christ’s presence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Little is a husband to Janice and father to JoyAna and Elias “Eli,” and he has a home at Corner House in Durham, North Carolina. He has learned from various schools, including several Christian communities seeking justice and peace (a Catholic Worker home inspired by St. Francis, Durham’s Friendship House and Haiti’s Wings of Hope) and is committed to a life ordered by daily communal prayer and littleness. He works at Reality Ministries, a place proclaiming that we all belong to God in Jesus through fostering friendship among people with and without developmental disabilities. Greg and Sister Julia met in the wonder of interfaith dialogue about monasticism and the contemplative life at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.