Every year around Christmas, a picture pops up in my Facebook memories that instantly makes me smile. It’s a picture of a mess, and I just love it. In normal everyday life, messes aren’t my thing. In fact, ask my daughters and they’ll list “messes” among the top five things that annoy mom. (Slightly after “underwear on the floor next to the hamper” and before “breathing too loudly.” I’m a gem.) But this picture? I adore it. 

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It was Christmas Day and I was hosting my family and dear friends for dinner. The kids were all dressed beautifully. I had set out my Christmas china and had coordinated plates for the kids’ table. Everyone was fancy; everything was fancy! My husband had grilled a beautiful whole beef tenderloin, and everyone had filled their fancy plates and found a spot at my fancy tables, replete with place cards. 

And then, what we fondly refer to as “Ziggy’s Christmas Miracle” occurred. A leg of the kids’ table collapsed! Food and fancy kid plates everywhere! You can’t imagine how far cheesy potato casserole can splatter. Everyone was stunned for a moment—except for the dog, who moved in before anyone could take a breath. And that’s when the screaming and scrambling began. Kids yelling, moms barking orders, Ziggy the Rat Terrier pulled from the middle of the mess, his dreams crushed, and cleaning supplies whisked out. Dinner ruined. 

Or was it? I had a choice when that table leg collapsed—cry and get angry, or laugh, clean up, and continue our night of celebrating the gift of Jesus with family and friends. In order to practice biblical hospitality, I needed to recall I Peter 4:9: “Show hospitality to one another without complaining.” I could whine about how everything was ruined, and the dog was for sure going to puke on the carpet at some point later when I least expected it; or I could clean up with a smile and focus on making my guests feel loved. I chose the latter and was so glad I had hidden scripture in my heart to help me with that decision.

The ultimate purpose of biblical hospitality is to honor and obey God by serving those around us. Inviting others into our home and focusing on their needs is to obey the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Years ago I read a line that burrowed deeply into my heart: Entertaining focuses on the host; hospitality focuses on the guest. 

This mindset changes everything about inviting others into your life and your home. When you make serving others about entertaining in a spotless home with your finest china, you might not be focusing on the heart needs of the guests that are about to walk in your door. When you are practicing biblical hospitality, your focus is on your guests—their need perhaps for a listening ear, a feeling of acceptance, time together that nourishes the body with food and nourishes the spirit with comfort. Not to say that can’t happen in a clean house with several different china patterns to choose from! (Me. Guilty! I can’t help it! I like an orderly house and pretty plates, and I have a mother-in-law who indulges that!) It’s not wrong to love those things, but they shouldn’t be preeminent to our understanding of hospitality. 

Hospitality can happen in a messy house. It can happen with PB&J’s as the main course. It can happen at the formal dining table or on paper plates in the family room. Hospitality happens anytime the host is focused on the guest and sharing the love of Jesus in between courses. 

This holiday season, I’d encourage you to open your door. Just that one step of inviting others into your home can be scary if you’re focused on “entertaining,” but change your mindset to hospitality, and see how the picture changes. Biblical hospitality can be on display at its finest during the seasons when we’re celebrating our Savior the most. Welcome in friends, family, neighbors, that new family at church or school, even strangers. You won’t be disappointed at the return you’ll get from following the command to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:14b). And maybe your dog will get lucky and have a Christmas miracle all of its own. It’s happened before.