May 9/22 Translation of the relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker from Myra to Bari, in 1087
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
A quiet day was planned at home with an equally quiet evening. I had spent most of the day watching the kids and recouping from an especially busy schedule visiting family and friends. The continuing overcast skies and subarctic temperatures made even playing on the local playground unattractive. My wife was just about to depart for an evening on the town with old school mates when the doorbell rang.
It was our aunt and uncle with whom we were planning a departure to dacha; they came by with a few provisions. Their gifts of tasty fish, homemade cookies and bread were the perfect augment to our potato pancakes (cutlete). Our fasting meal seemed complete. Cups of tea were poured all around as we remembered to toast the day of one of Russia’s most beloved saints and the translation of his relics. But even more unexpected company was yet to come.
My wife’s cousin who had planned to host my younger son for a sleepover with one of his kids decided last minute to come over and get him rather than bother us with delivering him ourselves. While his daughter played for a while with my son, he of course joined our potluck feast with his own gift of hospitality in hosting our son.
It was all like the opening scene in the Hobbit when a whole company of dwarfs descends on Bag End at the summons of Gandalf. Bilbo Baggins pulls provisions from hidden larders and struggles to keep up with the great demand for hospitality. Though initially he is put out by what seems to most Americans as rudeness, the resulting meeting is one of the most pleasant parts of the story.
We Americans treat our homes much like museums with hours by appointment only. Guests have to register far in advance, and even when they do finally arrive and get a tour of their host’s home (where did this funny tradition come from?), it is rarely to stay overnight (that would be too much of an imposition). Wives build ultra-modern kitchens with every possible appliance, then frequently order take-out because we don’t have time to make anything in them. I shudder to think what an average American housewife would say to the arrival of so many happy, unexpected guests.
But the command from the Lord to show hospitality no matter what the cost leaves us with a dilemma. Do we hold on so tightly to our busy American lives that we cannot make room for a newborn baby to stay overnight in a manger? Or do we learn to stop long enough, sit down at a table, and do something more than grab bites to eat or a cup of coffee to drink? May He who walked on the Road to Emmaus and broke bread with his disciples teach us all how better to sit at table and entertain angels unawares.