Third Monday of Advent: Unexpected Welcome
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
—Leviticus 19:34 (Read Leviticus 19)
The home we stayed in was modest, with a second floor room for guests and a packed-earth floor in the kitchen. Everything was swept clean, orderly and bright.
My friend Ross and I were visiting with his Aunt Agatha—Thea Agathi—in a little town near Sparta, Greece.
Ross and I were 18-year-olds, tasting freedom for the first time during the glorious summer between high school graduation and freshman year of college. We stayed with Ross’s relatives all over Greece—Ross looking the part of a Greek-American, except for his 6’5” frame, and me not only too tall, but too blond and freckled to fool anyone.
As we traveled, we relied on Ross’s Greek language skills, which improved as the weeks passed. I listened, nodded, and smiled, encouraged because I was understanding more of what I heard, frustrated because I had the speaking ability of a toddler.
Thea Agathi was a tiny woman with a lovely smile and the daily black garb of a widow. Like all of Ross’s relatives, she put all of her resources to work in order to make Ross and I feel at home.
We ate grapes from her arbor, eggs from her hens, and fish she either bought, bartered for, or accepted as a gift from a neighbor.
Thea Agathi collected water from a village spigot, but her big white refrigerator was racked full of bottles of Pepsi. Part of this may have been the reluctance of Greeks to trust their drinking water, but mostly it was Thea Agathi’s commitment to provide her guests with the best of the American table.
We had Pepsi with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the times in between.
Forty-two years later, stepping into the pulpit to preach on hospitality, I post a picture of a tiny Greek lady in the daily black garb of a widow, squinting against the Greek sun. She is smiling at the camera.
In preparation for the sermon, I’ve learned that the word translated “hospitality” in two well-known New Testament passages comes from two Greek words—phyllo or phylla and xenos. The most straightforward way of rendering these words is “love of the stranger.”
It’s not a new theme in the New Testament, but follows the thread from God’s instructions to his people in the Pentateuch.
Treat the stranger with Golden-Rule care, remembering that you were in her shoes not so very long ago.
I remember Thea Agathi’s hospitality because of that fridge full of Pepsi, the grape arbor, and the comfy guest room. But mostly I remember because of this: relative to Agathi’s possessions, her hospitality was so extravagant.
We stayed in a house with a packed-earth floor. She welcomed us as if it were a palace.
In the decades since, reflecting on this tiny Greek woman’s care for me and my friend, I wonder: Did Thea Agathi know what it meant to be welcomed as a stranger? Did she know something of the surprising, extravagant hospitality of the LORD our God? Did she know that we love because Jesus first loved us?
I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that Thea Agathi’s welcome came from that deep place of knowing God’s welcome in Christ.
Perhaps hospitality works best when the host has been on the receiving end of an unexpected welcome.
I am grateful to have received this unexpected welcome, from Thea Agathi one sun-drenched summer and through God’s mercy, each and every day. And though we don’t do hospitality perfectly in our home—and none of the food comes from our backyard—the door is open and the table is spread.
There is a chair open for you, friend or stranger.
—Dan Dupee, CCO Chairman of the Board