I have lived with my pastor and his family on two occasions. The second time was when Jamie and I moved to Kansas City from Waco, Texas with six-month old Kaylea; our house in Texas took forever to sell. One month into our extended visit, Jamie and I woke up beyond grateful for a rare and precious full night of sleep. While eating breakfast, however, we heard the whole story of a screaming-not-sleeping Kaylea, picked up by a now-not-sleeping teenage boy in the bedroom next door, who delivered Kaylea past the guest bedroom where Jamie and I were snoring and downstairs to his dad, who consoled her for a couple of hours. Unbeknownst to us, our baby monitor had unplugged from the wall. Thankfully, our Texas house sold just a few weeks later and we were able to move into our own place and learn how to comfort a colicky Kaylea.
The first time I lived with my pastor was in the winter of 1987, the year the Minnesota Twins won the World Series, The Simpsons first appeared on TV, and Michael Jackson’s Bad album topped the charts. I had yet to hit five feet tall or one hundred pounds and prayed often for anything resembling a growth spurt.
Advent is about the fullness of life in the waiting for the coming of the King, and as a 7th grader, I couldn’t wait for the coming of the king of all days, Christmas morning. That year I unwrapped a baseball, which should come as a surprise to no one. Dad and I had been playing catch in the church parking lot across the street, the same church parking lot where I learned to roller skate and ride a ten-speed bike, and I made a bad throw. The now-asphalt-scarred ball disappeared into the thickest brush at the end of the parking lot. We finally gave up looking for it when Mom rang the cowbell and called us in to dinner. Dad looked a long time for that ball before he found it. That gift was sheer surprise.
Also sheer surprise was the brand new Nintendo I unwrapped for my last present. No letters or adjectives or anything else after Nintendo, just the original square gray box Nintendo whose game controller only had two buttons, A and B. Along with this Nintendo, I unwrapped the golden-cartridge game, “The Legend of Zelda.” While Mom finished preparations on our Christmas lunch of homemade lasagna, I rushed to my room, set up the game system, and began my Zelda adventure.
Halfway through my attempt at beating the boss at the end of the first level, the power went out.
At that time, the only other power outage I had experienced was when I was staying home alone in the fifth grade. Someone was driving at a ridiculous speed through the neighborhood trying to evade officers, when they lost control of their car and hit a telephone pole, which blew up the transformer, which I first mistook for a gunshot until my neighbor filled me in after visiting with the officers. Power was restored shortly before my parents got home.
Unable to enjoy my gift with the power out, I had to wait, but only about thirty minutes until it came back on and I re-started my Zelda adventure. I was again about halfway through beating the first-level boss when the power went out a second time. I was convinced the universe was conspiring against me and my video game enjoyment.
That was when I finally looked outside and personally witnessed the icy winter wonderland that was out the front door. Then the power came back on and I rushed into my bedroom and again re-started my Zelda adventure.
The third time’s the charm.
This time the power stayed off for days. I later learned that all four(!) Springfield TV stations were off the air for through the weekend. Over 25,000 people were without power for more than a week. Ice blanketed every surface and snow was several inches deep across the Ozarks.
In the midst of this, our pastor invited my family to stay with him and his family until our power was restored.
At the occurrence of the event, I was a seventh grade boy. The world of most seventh grade boys is ridiculously small and horrendously self-centered. I was pretty content staying at my pastor’s house because I was best friends with his son. We traded baseball cards and watched movies on VHS and I was relatively oblivious to everything else.
It never once occurred to me to take my Nintendo to my pastor’s house. Surely we would be going home soon, right? Each day, my family returned home to check the power and take showers — thanks be to God for a gas water heater. Each time we made that trip home, I clung to the hope of returning to Zelda and finally defeating that first-level boss.
More baseball cards. More movies. More general obliviousness.
There are so many details from that winter I don’t remember. I don’t remember how many nights we were there. I don’t remember if I ever got that coveted Bo Jackson baseball card in trading. And I have no idea what we did with our pets.
But I never worried about where our next meal would come from. I never once worried about clothes, I’d just grab what I needed for the next day on our trips home. I didn’t worry about pipes breaking in the cold or incomes or paying bills or all of the horrible stuff that can happen in extreme weather conditions. I pretty much existed in an ignorant bliss, enjoying the adventure at my pastor’s house, even away from Zelda.
What I do remember, more than anything, is the feeling of hospitality. Hospitality is creating a safe, welcoming space for anyone, wherever you are.
I’m convinced that hospitality is exactly what this world needs as we rush distractedly through these consumer-driven days. A starting place is being kind and patient with anyone who is working wherever you may be. From cashiers and baristas to referees and coaches, be quick to express gratitude and thanksgiving for their time and energy as it helps you through your day. On top of that—
Visit with the stranger who is standing behind you in line.
Buy gifts for children whose parents are incarcerated.
Help someone put up their Christmas tree.
Bake cookies for your neighbors.
Sing along with whatever carols are playing at the store. (Spreading Christmas cheer is definitely a form of hospitality, thank you Buddy the Elf.)
I wonder how Mary and Joseph told the story to their children of the person who created safe and sacred space for them in their time of desperate need.
A little hospitality can change the world.