"Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." -Hebrews 13:1-2
I will be one of the crazy people shopping on Black Friday.
For most of my adult life I managed to shun this cultural insanity. I avoided all post-Thanksgiving retail. I prided myself on thoughtful, “real meaning of Christmas” practices, not to mention a year round hunt for perfect gifts. A while back, my return to full-time church leadership and the arrival of my twins smashed both of those high-minded ideals, and my sister J, sensing my despondency, talked me into my first Black Friday outing. Her reasoning was compelling, “One night of hell and you won’t have to worry about anything but Advent.”
So, that year I became a “tag-a-long” to my younger sister as she orchestrated our Christmas shopping endeavors. She scouted inventory, studied opening times, and plotted driving routes; she even scheduled coffee and snack breaks. Yet for all of her tactical shopping skills (and they are many), the best gift my sister gave me was the way she behaved. First, there was her cheerful (and loud) “HELLO!” to everyone who made eye contact. She seemed to go out of her way to greet people, inquire about their Thanksgiving, and wish them a good night (or morning). She encouraged beleaguered sales staff, helped harried dads find toys they’d never heard of, and suggested alternatives to people devastated by a “sell-out.”
At first, I thought my sister was suffering from some sort of insanity. She is an introvert and usually tries not to be noticed. But this good natured engagement went on for hours, well past the point when I was ready to strangle the next person who bumped into me. Finally I asked, “What is wrong with you? Why are you being so nice?”
Her reasoning was, again, too powerful to ignore. “Most people are here because they want to show someone they love how much they appreciate them. And they have to do it on a budget or else they wouldn’t stand in line and put up with all of this. And the people working are working because they have to. I guess I see it as a good opportunity to practice being the [Christian] person I claim to be.”
It is easy to be patient and kind and enduring, I was rediscovering, when people are behaving themselves around you. It is much harder to be bombarded by craziness and ugliness and maintain one’s composure. But as Christians we are called to offer hospitality to all. Our Christian hospitality should not be reserved for those who step across our thresholds. It is about welcoming people wherever we happen to run across them, and in whatever state they appear, because Jesus welcomes them. And when I think about it, it really isn’t that hard to wait, to smile, or to say “thank-you.”
And so it is that five years on, I’m still following my sister into the fray of Black Friday. I have yet to attain her degree of patience and cheerfulness. But I’m working on it.
The Rev. Kym Lucas is the rector at St. Margaret's in Washington, DC.