Romans 15:4-13 / Matthew 11:2-10
Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honor of God.
As the days grow shorter and the nights become a little colder, as we now see in full bloom the decorations that adorn our streets and the windows of stores, as our preparation begins in earnest for celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are likely to find ourselves either asking, or being asked, to receive someone for the holidays. The request might very well be happily received: the chance to make new friends or exercise the virtue of hospitality in a way few other seasons allow. The request may also be resented. We might find the thought of strangers sharing our homes on Christmas to be more an imposition than anything else, and if we are the invited party, we may well discover our joy is tempered by anxieties that our presence is more a burden than a gift. Of course, most of the time we find a way both to receive and to be received for the holidays. With some regrettable exceptions, we find a way in the warmth of Christmas to look past the faults and quirks of our guests, to let go of fears that we are interrupting the holidays of our hosts, and to receive one another gladly.
What do we do, however, outside of that special season of gift and of light. How readily do we, in this busier time that we fill with so many appointments, too many tasks to finish before Christmas Eve, find it easy to listen to our brother's troubles yet one more time, visit our ailing parents whose aches and pains make every visit another cause for stress and grief, see the woman begging outside the Church as something other than a nuisance? The truth of the matter is that these persons, deprived of the mesmerizing glow of tinsel and starlight, are not easy to receive, and the even grimmer truth is that we are no easier to embrace. In fact, it is when we need most to be taken in by love that we are least loveable. It is in our brokenness, our rebellion, our injured pride and jealousy, uncontrolled in our appetites, demanding special consideration while refusing to grant clemency for the slightest fault — this is when we above all times need to receive one other, to take in and be taken in by Love unconquerable.
These are the very selves whom Christ received in his most merciful coming, and received not grudgingly, with clenched jaw and forced smile, but willingly and happily unto the honor of God. While we must not give up our hope of being better, of finding our expectation this Advent to have had a healing and strengthening effect on our feeble and ailing souls, while indeed this must be the aim of Advent itself, to be ready and willing to greet the coming of Jesus Christ with joy and gladness, we must admit that no Advent discipline or hope will be enough to make us fit watchmen to greet the King. Nothing on our part will make his coming again in glory any more rightly proportioned to the kinds of lives we have led. Then, when he comes, as before, when he was born in Bethlehem, we will be the recipients of his hospitality, not he ours. It is he who will receive us, not we him.
Yet, if we can never be fitting sentinels keeping watch for Christ, we can do so for one another. We can, especially in Advent, but throughout our lives, strive again and again to receive one another, as Christ hath received us unto the honor of God. We can make time for the spiteful and the gossip, we can embrace the man whose politics we find odious and the woman whose vision of the Church we take to be at best regrettable, at worst a positive scandal. All of these we can strive to receive, in our lives, in our congregations, and in our daily prayer. It is in this pattern of receiving the loveless and, so it might easily seem, unlovable that Advent can transform us, day by day, into the very pattern of his first coming, into the very love of Jesus Christ.