One winter day, almost four decades ago, our family was driving south on the plains of Illinois on our way to visit relatives. All too soon we experienced white-out conditions, and we ended up in a fifty-car pileup on Interstate 55.
With the blizzard still raging, our car was eventually able to limp to a nearby exit for a small town where Phyllis and I sheltered in a restaurant with our four young children, all of us dazed and uncertain what to do. As we were standing there among dozens of other stranded motorists, we heard rumors that the town was going to open up the local high school gym so people would have a place to stay that cold winter night.
A local family saw us and our four small children and said, “You’re not staying in the high school gym.”
“We’re not?” we responded somewhat confused.
“No,” they replied, “you’re staying with us tonight.”
That night, we were the strangers. We were in need of a warm place, warm food, and friendly faces. These people welcomed us into their home, fed us all we wanted, had us join in their family activities, and as we left the next morning, I was astonished to hear them say, “It has been wonderful to have you here. You blessed us. You’ve reminded us of what’s important in life, of how good God is.”
I could hardly believe it. We were the ones in need. We were the ones who had been helped, but somehow they were the ones who were blessed.
That night we were reminded vividly how God welcomes us into the hospitality of his love through the gift of his own Son sent to the people of earth. We were reminded that God calls us to find ways to follow his example by also reaching out to those in need, those who are weak or oppressed—just has he had done for us, entering this world as a baby who would give us the greatest welcome of all.
And this was especially vivid to us because that winter night in which the six of us were stranded and helpless, that night in which we needed rescue—that night was Christmas Eve.