(E)pistle: Guest Post by the Rev. Michael Barham

“Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the hearth and set the table.”

In Advent, I often mull over Tolstoy’s story of Martin the Cobbler, which, as a child, was a story that captured my attention as I watched it in the 1977 stop motion production! The story is simple. Martin hears the voice of Christ promise that he will pass by Martin’s window on Christmas Day, and if Martin sees him and invites him in, he will accept the invitation. So, with great joy and anticipation and keeping watch, he sees a series of characters passing by each in various states of need. In compassion, Martin beckons them in. As the day draws to a close, he questions why he hasn’t received the guest expected, then learns the unexpected visitors were manifestations of the one whom he anticipated – the Christ – and that they do not so much test Martin’s faith as they give him occasions to show it. The story laid a groundwork for me later to receive the story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining angels unawares, a Christology of Christ as pilgrim. 

The relational sharing of hospitality has been understood since ancient times as an occasion for divine encounter. Advent reminds us of and gives us liturgical space to remember the importance of hospitality, staying awake and creating welcoming spaces in our heart and lives for Christ who appears to us in the lives that pass by our windows.

Recently, I was reminded of Martin the Cobbler during a visit by scholars from Te Rau College and the Māori Anglican Church in Aotearoa-New Zealand.  CDSP received an invitation to join them in conversation while they were stopping in the Bay Area on their way home from participation in the American Academy of Religion’s annual convention. 

Seeking thoughtful and faithful conversation, they invited us to meet and share with one another. We busied ourselves for their arrival, making dinner reservations, carefully considering who to include in the conversations to represent our seminary community, planning meeting time for academic conversation and breaking bread together.  Receiving our best planning graciously, our siblings from the Māori Anglican Church gave us the gift of reciprocal hospitality: they wove multiple forms of wisdom and knowledge together and invited us into meaningful reflection, they gave us the gift of song, deeply moving us in spirit, and they shared the beauty of laughter and humor that did not belittle the struggles and challenges that have summoned and refined their contributions to theology, especially ecclesiology.

Among those who joined the conversations from CDSP, I find there is a shared sense that not only were our intellectual curiosities piqued by this exchange of hospitality and what we have to learn about the contemporary ministry in our own context, but our souls were uplifted and our hearts enlarged.  I am reminded that the binary of “guest” and “host” is worthy of critique: while we received guests at CDSP, the opening of space for intellectual and spiritual dialogue was at their invitation, and they proved to be most gracious and generous of hosts. Like Abraham and Sarah, like Zaccheaus, and like Tolstoy’s Martin, we were deeply moved by the arrival of those who had promised to visit and the thoughtful conversation they shared.

Our colleagues from the Māori Anglican Church, greeting us with kia ora (translated “have life,” or “be healthy”), imparted something lifegiving and wise for the continued unfolding story of God’s work in the Church and the world, and so taught us something of Christ the Guest, Christ the Host. As Advent can remind us, making room for visitors opens us to encountering and more expansively understanding God and ourselves.

The Rev. Michael P. Barham, DMin, Director of Student Services and Recruitment

Appearing in photo: The Ven. Dr. Hirini Kaa, the Ven. Michael Tamihere, Ruawhaitiri Ngatai-Mahue, Susan Wallace, the Rev. Peter Barge, the Rev. Cn Isaac Beach, the Rev. Zhane Tahau-Whelan, Dr. Jennifer Snow, the Rev. Ruth Myers, PhD, Harlowe Zeftig ‘25, Angela Furlong ‘23, the Rev. Michael Barham (DMin ’12, CAS ’07), the Rev. Stephen Hassett (DMin ’16, MDiv ’06). Afternoon conversation attendees not pictured: the Rev. Dr. Mark Chung Hearn, Melissa Posada, and the Rev. Beth Foote.