Love, the Guest
By Amanda Highben
One of my favorite lines from the Advent hymn “People, Look East” is the one that encourages Christians to prepare their homes because “Love, the Guest, is on the way.” The poetry reads, “Make your house fair as you are able / trim the hearth and set the table.” Of course, we don’t use the words “trim the hearth” much anymore as we clean and decorate our homes for the holidays, but we understand that this is the language of hospitality; we welcome our loved ones by doing our best to “make fair” our homes and cooking good food, bearing in mind that as we welcome guests into our homes we’re also welcoming Christ, who is Love, the true Guest.
Speaking of our homes, did you know that Epiphany (January 6, which falls on the first Sunday of the month this year) is a traditional time for the family ritual of “Chalking the Door?” We read in Matthew’s Gospel that when the three magi witnessed Jesus’ star stop over the place in Bethlehem where he was born, they were “overwhelmed with joy,” and “on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.” Just as the wise men entered the house and encountered the Christ child, so too do we believe that Christ is present as we love friends, family, and all visitors who enter our homes.
It’s fitting, then, to engage in a ritual of blessing to ask God’s grace to fill our homes so that all who dwell within those walls and visit there will know Christ’s compassionate, bold light which we celebrate at Epiphany. In addition to a prayer of blessing and the reading of a scripture passage, a visual blessing is inscribed above the main door with white chalk (in keeping with an eastern Euro- pean tradition). For example, the inscription for 2013 would be “20 + CMB + 13.” The numbers reflect each new year and the three letters either stand for the ancient Latin blessing Christe mansionem benedica (Christ bless this house), or the names believed to belong to the magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. If you’d like to bless your home this January, please let me know and I can provide you with a copy of this brief, simple service.
We also remember, however, that Joseph, Mary and Jesus had no home in Bethlehem, no safe place of comfort and warmth when it came time for the Christ child’s birth. Homes are a blessing from our gracious God, and we know there are far too many people who are homeless or who struggle to keep their homes through no fault of their own. As God’s children we believe we are called to advocate on behalf of such as these, to offer our financial gifts, and to support legislation that helps individuals and families to own and keep their homes. And we pray, “God of light and compassion, whose Son became poor for our sake: Help us to see the face of Christ in those who are poor, and in serving them to serve you” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg. 79).