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Elizabeth  of Hungary, born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given in an arranged political marriage, she became wife of Louis of Thuringia (Germany) at age 14.

Her spirit of Christian generosity and charity pervaded the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. Their abode was known for hospitality and family love.

Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy, even giving up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at age 20, she arranged for her children’s well-being and entered into life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

As I write this pious people are saying that we should welcome Syrian refugees and show them hospitality, after all, Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were refugees refused hospitality the night before Jesus’ birth.  This understanding Luke 2 is currently in the blogosphere. This sentiment demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the Biblical text and hospitality. 
The  word translated as “inn”, in Luke 2,  in N.T. Greek is actually a house. It is not the same Greek word as in the prodigal of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan puts up the man in “inn”, an actual hostel for overnight lodging. The word in Luke 2 is a house, a home. Since Joseph was of the “house and lineage of David”, he probably had kin in Bethlehem. If you had family, it would have been shameful to stay at a hostel. And the house may have been quite full, yet Joseph’s kin put them up, but the Luke 2 does not tell us they stayed in the stable. Just when Mary gave birth. she laid Jesus in the “manger”, lit. a feeding trough, because there was no room in the inn. A family with a new born, and an exhausted Mary,needed a quiet place. The hospitality was given by Joseph’s kin to Mary and him and now their firstborn. Given that this keeps to the text a whole lot more, the other good impulse in the Christmas narrative is it is about family, and a Holy Family, but a family and God’s blessings come through families from Abraham and Sarah to Joseph and Mary.
In our world, we would expect the Roman government to have a federal program to put up families in new towns to fulfill the new IRS requirements. Let someone else be hospitable to family and the sojourner. It is easy to talk about how hospitable and caring we are when are not actually the ones doing the hands on hospitality! We feel real good when we tweet how caring we are. It is a different matter to care for our neighbor or family member with all their “stuff” in their needs, sorrows, peculiarities etc. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, sounds easy, after all I want to be loved when I’m cranky, poor, sick, etc, okay, Love your neighbor as your self”. Sure let government do that. Do we as Christians and as Americans even know how to be hospitable to even our own, let alone the sojourner, in our homes? I know this does not provide a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, but it would be different to think about Christian congregations (as after the Vietnam War, congregations welcomed the Hmong people), synagogues and even mosques. As a pastor I would want the Syrians checked out thoroughly. Are their Syrian organizations who would be willing to help? Ex-pat Syrians who have already set up residency to help? Conservative and liberal we now think only government and talk about the need to “think outside the box”!

Elizabeth of Hungary, and Martin Luther in the quote below teach us in word and deed the Biblical understanding of hospitality and it is hands on, not hands off letting someone else doing it, especially government! After all, our salvation was and is “hands on”, nail-imprinted Hands.  Luther and his wife and family were quite hospitable in opening their home to all sorts of people.  One of the job descriptions of a bishop/pastor is hospitality: “Therefore a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…” (1 Timothy 3:2)  It is not first for the next guy’s home, but our own. 

Reflection by Dr. Martin Luther:  

This is … an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid…. For the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren, … But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for such anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortations to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren. There would be no ill will, and together with godly Abraham we would run to meet the wretched people, invite them into our homes, and seize upon this honor and distinction ahead of others and say: “O Lord Jesus, come to me; enjoy my bread, wine, silver, and gold. How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You!”

For our Daily Prayers:  

for the poor

for the sick and suffering

for the unemployed

Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the horned one her savior donned for her said and ours, that we too, might live a live of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the Name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.

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