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Hosting Hope for the Holidays

Folklore and sacred stories love the trope of the mysterious visitor: someone who comes to a town or into a home as a stranger. Usually they are judged harshly by others: they are unclean or foreign or frightening or all three. But someone takes them in, or shows them kindness, and then somehow the story turns. The stranger is revealed to be a king or an angel or a prophet or a spirit or a saint. Through wisdom and miracle some crisis is averted or injustice undone. The hospitable are rewarded or the indifferent are punished. In one way or another, the moral follows the famous quotation from the Christian Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing.”

There are a great many good and inspiring stories in this genre, but what about all those paupers who aren’t royalty in disguise? What about the strangers who aren’t angels, and the vagabonds who are only and simply vagabonds? The core values of our tradition instruct us: every person is precious and worthy and it is an honor and a joy to come to the aid of another. We don’t need to be looking for the magical Secret Shopper, who will report to the celestial head office on the quality of our customer service. It is miracle enough to get to welcome or to help someone else who is just as wonderful and mundane and beautiful and imperfect as we are. The quotation might be amended: “Do not neglect hospitality, because through it we make life possible and worthwhile.”

Each year in the late fall-early winter season, we engage in a project together called Simple Gifts. It’s an annual discipline of trying to refocus our celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice or what have you, towards the generosity of spirit and hospitality of heart that is too often lost in our consumption-driven world. This year, we are following this practice by joining the Guest at Your Table program. Guest at Your Table is an annual fundraising effort by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee – our movement’s global aid and development organization. Each household or family is invited to take a small paper box to be a guest in their home throughout this season. At meal times, or whenever you do something special for this time of year, think of having an additional guest in your house: someone else to feed or buy presents for. Then set aside the real cost that welcoming someone into your home would mean, and place this money into the box, to be collected in January and sent on to the UUSC.

This is not meant just to be abstract: there are real people all over the world whose lives will be impacted by your contribution. Each year, the UUSC collects stories from the people its efforts touch as part of the Guest at Your Table program. This year, they are featuring some of the amazing activists and organizers that they partner with around the world – you can check out some of their stories here. If you don’t already have a box, you can get one at church throughout December. This is an opportunity we are eager to share not because the UUSC is an organization worth being proud of and worth supporting (though it is both), but because sharing with others and inviting them into our lives helps us realize the holy potential in us as human beings. It makes us more ourselves in a world that too often wants to make us less. And it allows us to practice giving without having to practice buying first. I hope that you will join me and my family in welcoming a guest to your table this holiday season.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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