Welcoming a God of Disguises

by Al Cole

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

What would it be like to entertain angels? What would you talk about? What food would you serve? …and the thought most awesome of all, what if you have already entertained them?

Angels are ubiquitous in the Bible, and often come in the guise of a stranger. Abraham and Sarah once entertained angels in the form of three men, and in Sarah’s case, she laughed at them. We all know how THAT turned out—she found herself pregnant at the ripe old age of 90. When the disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they were so blinded by their grief that they did not recognize divinity amongst them. The disciples talked for miles with their “new” friend all the while not realizing their Teacher had visited them, at least not until the very end. Angels and divinity can be in our midst, and we, blinded by our grief, pride, and a sundry list of other things, can be unaware of it.

It’s a little bit mischievous of angels to come down to Earth in disguise, don’t you think? It’s as if we’re being tested.

I heard a fable of a priest visiting their new congregation for the first time in disguise. They wanted to see how they would be treated. The congregation could not see beyond their tangled hair and rumpled clothing. In failing to welcome the stranger, the congregation did not pass the priest’s test. They failed to welcome the stranger in their pews because they did not look or act like them. 

I even ran across the same idea in a series I read this summer, The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemison. In the second book, The Broken Kingdoms, the sun-god is trapped in human form and taken prisoner by one of his own cults. His human companion considers telling the captors the truth about his identity but thinks better of it. They probably wouldn’t have believed her anyway.

In the Downton Abbey movie, the Crawley family prepares for the visitation of the most important person in their universe, the Queen. Perhaps a visit from the Queen is a little easier to stomach then a visit from an angel. An angel appears with less fanfare and regalia than the Queen. And the Queen gives notice of what day and what hour she is coming. We just don’t know where or when to expect angels, and in what form they will appear, so perhaps the safest thing to assume is that everyone you meet is an angel in disguise.

Oh God of disguises, may we welcome You in all your forms, even when we don’t recognize You in a talking bush, a dove, or a stranger, so that we may practice sharing the kindness You give us with others. Amen.