Last summer I stopped by St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Like most monasteries, St. John's has a guesthouse that is open to any visitor, Catholic or otherwise. In the entryway is a wall hanging of chapter 53 of The Rule of St. Benedict.
"All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'"
In this rule, Benedictines bind themselves to welcoming the stranger as a guest, as if Christ himself. What would it look like for all Christians to adopt this rule, especially in the frenetic holiday season?
December is a month full of community. Ugly sweater parties. Overfilled malls draped with wreaths and perfume. The kids' Christmas programs. Loud restaurants.
But strangers slip under the surface of all the frantic activity. Wanderers whose lives echo Luke 2:7: "There was no place for them." They walk and work beside us. They may even live in the same house, lost and wandering with no place to belong.
An elderly widow in an empty house.
An orphaned child living with distant relatives.
A lonely friend forgotten on a Christmas invite list.
A transplant with no family in town.
An immigrant far from anything familiar.
So too our Lord.
His birth was relegated to a barn out back.
His young family wandered Egypt as foreigners.
He declared that foxes and birds have homes, but that he "has no place to lay his head."
In the face of the stranger is our Lord's likeness. So I am challenged to look at faces this December:
Who is the stranger around me?
Who is overlooked? Left out?
How will I welcome them?
"When did we see you a stranger?" they asked.
"And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" (Matt. 25:38-39)