I hate the glitz and the busyness, the worries over spending too much, the cleaning, the hours spent in the kitchen trying to create the perfect meal, and the sometimes-
painful family gatherings. My attempts to create an unrealistic ideal rob me of the joy and true spirit of the occasion.
Maybe I can correct my attitude if I focus on the biblical blessing of entertaining guests.
In our dining room my husband has hung one of his favorite icons: The Trinity by Andrei Rublev. The subject of the icon is the story of the three guests who visit Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18: 1-15). What an example of hospitality! Not only do Abraham and Sarah bless their guests with rest and refreshment, but the three visitors tell Abraham and Sarah they will have a son within a year—news the couple had almost given up hoping for, despite God’s promise that their descendents would be as many as the stars of heaven (15:5).
This reminds me of the film Ushpizin, directed by Gidi Dar. It’s another story of hosts and guests. The title means “holy guests” in Aramaic (the movie is in Hebrew with English subtitles; rated PG). The story takes place in an ultra-Orthodox district of modern-day Jerusalem during the holy days of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), a celebration that recalls the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness and God’s benevolence in providing for their needs.
Moshe and his wife, Mali, are in desperate straits as they look forward to the holiday. They have no money for food, rent, or the elements of the celebration—primarily the ritual foods and the outdoor hut, or sukkah, where the pious live during the holiday. “I am a lump of sadness,” Moshe cries to God.
But money mysteriously arrives to allow Moshe and Mali to celebrate. And so do guests—a vital part of the feast. But these visitors do not compare to those around my quirky family table or Abraham’s desert hearth. These guests are escaped parolees, one of whom knew Moshe in his rebellious youth.
Moshe and Mali see the duo’s arrival as both a blessing and a test from God and treat them with utmost kindness.
But before long the test outweighs the perceived blessing. These guys are crude and rude; they eventually cause tempers to flare and hopes of blessing to go up in smoke. Moshe and Mali’s relationship temporarily crumbles as a result.
I take strange comfort in their distress. It’s so human. It reminds me of the many times in my own life when I’ve felt at my wits’ end. Yet I find blessing as Moshe and Mali turn to God in both joy and sorrow. Their lives appear to be in ruins, yet their trust in God is not shaken.
In their frailty, Moshe and Mali help me to accept some of my human limitations. They remind me that underneath life’s upheavals lies the faithfulness of God.
I’ve labored for too many years under the conviction that life can be smooth and seamless—and that I can achieve this state on my own. Perhaps the guest I most need to welcome at this time is my own life, with all its messiness. Surely God is in this place.
This year I’ll try to worry less about a clean house and perfect harmony around the dinner table. Rather, I’ll concentrate on love and on gratitude to God, who even now dwells amid our blessed and imperfect humanity.