When my husband and I were dating, it was interesting to notice his heart for the church and my heart for the lost. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the Bride-to-Be or that I didn’t care about the Bride, but we definitely had our preferences. He taught Sunday School, served as a deacon, and occasionally filled the pulpit for rural churches; I hung out with neighborhood kids playing street hockey, crammed them into our living room for Bible storytelling and snacks, and visited their moms in jail.
As time passed, however, I realized something about myself: deep down, I believed that my heart for the lost had more in common with Jesus than my husband’s heart for the church. I secretly believed that lost people were more valuable than church people, that lost people should have more of our attention and love than church people.
There are those who believe the exact opposite, whether they realize it or not: that Jesus loves His Bride best of all, that church people are more valuable than lost people, that church people should have most of our attention and love. Maybe they don’t come out and say those exact words, but their actions reveal their hearts.
What is the way of Jesus?
During His life on Earth, Jesus spent time in synagogues and in the homes of sinners. His everyday interactions included faithful Jews and untouchable Gentiles; people who loved Him and others who hated Him; people who had never seen Him before and others who knew Him well. He gave His love and attention to the sick and healthy, to huge crowds, and His twelve private students.
This kind of life is honored in 1 Timothy 5:10, as Paul describes the character of a worthy widow: “…If she has welcomed strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet…” What an amazing revelation! Not one or the other, but both. An open heart for strangers and saints alike.
I remember a story from Susan Schaefer Macaulay’s book, For the Family’s Sake. “…As a young couple in London, [my husband] and I attended a large church with people well fed both physically and spiritually. We chatted with a man there after services. He had attended church in that place for over 20 years. His wartime boyhood had scarred him; he was reserved. We wanted to share our Christmas dinner with someone who was alone, and we invited him. Although all the shops had been closed when we invited him, he brought me a gift of sweet-smelling lotion, a treat I could not afford. We discovered he had bought this gift and others, “Just in case I was invited out.” Later we heard that ours was the first home ever to invite him in for a shared meal. Oh, busy Christian church! Oh, fellow human beings! We need to take time for each other.”
We do need to take time for each other as fellow human beings. However, there is a warning to keep in mind, especially as we intentionally step outside the church and welcome strangers. “Sadly,” says Macaulay in that same book, “convinced Christians often operate under a misconception… that we are only to offer a good turn to a neighbor or become a friend so as to have an opportunity to peddle our beliefs.” As Mike Breen points out in his book Family on Mission, it’s easy to make lost people our focus, when really, we’re called to make them our family. “We dare not,” says Macaulay, “we must not prostitute love.”
This Advent Season
My husband and I are not the only ones predisposed to welcome or wash. Often your season in life or your personality makes one area easier than the other, but during Advent, begin to ask Jesus where He would like to stretch you. Whether that means welcoming a stranger or washing the feet of a saint, don’t allow guilt, shame, or fear to motivate your actions. Instead, allow Jesus to empower you with His overflowing, unconditional love for saints and strangers.
Here are three simple, ordinary, and personal ideas for welcoming and washing this Advent season:
Share a simple meal with someone new
Whether you are single, married without children, or part of a growing family, we tend to spend time with the people we’re used to and comfortable with. Invite someone new—saint or stranger—to your table for a bowl of soup, some bread, and cookies. It really can be as simple as that.
Be sure to ask them questions. Where did you grow up? What is your favorite Christmas memory? Listen more than you talk. This is an act of love.
Bake and decorate Christmas cookies together
Invite a few neighborhood kids—saints or strangers—to bake Christmas cookies with you, or invite an elderly widow—saint or stranger—to help your own children bake cookies. People on the fringes love to feel needed. Ask the kids if they know any shut-ins—saints or strangers—in your neighborhood who would enjoy a sweet Christmas treat, and help them deliver the cookies.
Christmas carol in your neighborhood
Choose one or two Christmas songs like “Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” or “Away in a Manger” and learn the words to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Gather a couple of friends, your family, or some neighborhood children and knock on a few doors in your neighborhood. Prepare to watch tired faces light up with the glow of your unexpected attention and love. If you live in a rural area, take your songs to the residents at a local nursing home.
Open the Door
Both welcoming and washing require emptying yourself to serve others, which might sound like more than you can handle this Advent season. But in Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Everyone who opens the door to Jesus shares a meal with Him, and no one who shares a meal with Jesus goes away hungry.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart prepare Him room.
// Isaac Watts