The SpiceBox – “When the unseen guest is see”

by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel

When you were growing up, was that motto hanging on the wall in your home? It was in ours, and from the looks of it on the Internet, it was in millions of homes. I did a search, trying to find out who the original writer was; I didn’t find that, but I did find references to the plaque in notes and articles and blogs from throughout the world. I saw it written in Korean, Japanese and German, and assume that those are only a few of the languages in which the motto is displayed. Time after time, there is mention of seeing the words hanging on the wall of a parent or grandparent. Metal, plastic, cardboard, Plaster of Paris, wood, fabric, even glass, the printed words seem to appear on just about every material imaginable, printed, painted, carved or inscribed in letters sometimes plain and simple, sometimes “elaborate nearly indecipherable.” Most references to the motto included fond memories of family gatherings around a bountiful table, of praying parents and loving fellowship. I was interested to find an article from Time Magazine’s Dec. 26, 1949 issue entitled “I Was a Stranger…” about then National Commander of The Salvation Army Commissioner Ernest Pugmire, who had mentioned that this motto was on the wall of his Salvation Army officer parents’ home as he was growing up.

From what I have heard, some people have gone so far as to add an extra chair at the dinner table to remind them that Jesus is present in their fellowship and conversation. We never did that—with 10 of us around the table, there wasn’t much room for an extra chair—but we knew Christ was present, nevertheless. Just to make sure, Mom and Dad used to invite guests for Sunday dinner, someone who didn’t have family locally, a new family visiting the church for the first time, a friend of one of us kids, or … just about anybody for any reason. It got pretty crowded sometimes.

The holiday season is here. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, these are special family times, and because Jesus is family, he will be invited to join with Christian families in celebration and thanksgiving to God. Because he is family, he will come and will share through the Holy Spirit a renewed sense of his love and his presence. After all, he promised (“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them,” Matt 18:20 NIV).

Like always, this comforting thought comes with a caveat: Though an invited guest, and though he is indeed family, Jesus does not always come looking the way we expect him to. According to his own words, we may not always recognize him when he comes—he sometimes chooses to appear as someone other than himself. He may show up in the guise of a stranger, a grieving widower, a lonely child, a student or a soldier who can’t make it home for the holidays. He may appear to be a shut-in who could use a bit of company on Thanksgiving Day, so you have to go to him or her instead. According to his own words, he may be in prison, or in a hospital or convalescent home, hoping for a visitor to bring a message of hope and comfort. Weird, isn’t it—that the King of Kings could show up as a homeless guy in need of a hot meal? Maybe, this Thanksgiving, Jesus won’t be the unseen guest at your table. Maybe the guest you invited simply because no one should be alone on Thanksgiving will be HIM.

Then the King will say… “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:31-40 NIV).

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