I’m hosting Christmas dinner for the first time this year. As soon as I found out I was going to host, I began thinking through the different menu, decor and guest list possibilities.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the details of planning a meal- finding the perfect combination of foods that reflect the season, choosing the prettiest flowers at the grocery store for the table, inviting friends, family and neighbors that I love.
Yet amidst all my planning, it’s too easy for me to shift my gaze from the birth of Jesus to the details and intricacies of planning a meal. I find myself influenced by what I’m seeing on social media, what culture says should shape my values and what I selfishly want for my holidays.
Instagram spurs me to obsess over finding the perfect tablescape and place settings. Articles about families who canceled their holiday plans because of political differences make me want to turn inward and surround myself with people who believe and think like me. My desire to impress and make a name for myself makes me want to go “all out” all the time so people regard me as the best of hostesses.
Yet, all of that leaves me feeling empty and unsatisfied. I find myself in need of a source of Christmas inspiration that reminds me to look outward as I plan, prepare, cook and host. And what better place to look for inspiration than the Nativity itself?
The Nativity breaks through the noise that distracts and motivates me and gives me a beautiful story to ground my Christmas plans. The Nativity informs who I should have at my table and how I should think about hosting. As we look to the Nativity scene and the coming of the Magi, we see a woman, shepherds and Gentiles. These aren’t the people the Israelites thought would celebrate the long awaited coming of the Messiah. They were the devalued, the poor and the outsiders.
Tim Keller explains the significance of the Nativity scene:
“…Here’s what we’re being told: Christmas is the end of snobbishness. Christmas is the end of thinking, Oh, that kind of person.
You don’t despise women, but you despise somebody. (Oh, yes you do!) You may not be a racist, but you certainly despise racists. You may not be a bigot, but you have certain people about which you think, ‘They’re the reason for the problems in the world…’
Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you.”
This Advent comes in the midst of a contentious political atmosphere for our country, and that atmosphere trickles into my relationships. It’s too easy to embrace the quiet pride of thinking I’m better than someone else because of my views and how I voted. The Nativity scene spurs me to move toward those I quietly look down on and bring them to my table this Christmas just as Jesus welcomed the outsiders to his birth.
Moreover, the coming of Jesus moves me toward humility and love. If the Son of God came in a stable without fanfare, how might I embrace that humility in my planning and hosting? I will still decorate my home and cook delicious meals, but while doing those activities I will do them for the joy I find in cooking and decorating instead of trying to impress or cultivate a certain reputation.
One of my favorite Christmas carols describes the coming of Jesus this way:
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender, Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becomes poor.
When I plan my Christmas dinners and events, I’m often grasping for the best that I can afford and can grow disappointed with my means. Christmas is certainly a time for celebrating well and enjoying the goodness of God’s gifts, but the birth of Jesus compels me to remember the splendor he left in heaven to enter this earth and live with us. His poverty moves me toward love and humility as I draw people into my home and host.
Consider the practical ways the Nativity might motivate your celebrations this Christmas. Who do you look down on in your life that you need to welcome to your table with hospitality? Who do you know that might be socially and monetarily poor that you can invite to dinner? The Nativity subverts who we think we should invite to our Christmas table and beckons us to look outside of ourselves and our economic, social and racial “bubbles.”
Moreover, how might we ground ourselves in the love and humility we see in the Nativity? This will certainly look different for each of us. For me, it’s a reminder to set a budget for my Christmas festivities and use those means with joy instead of frustration, remembering that the Son of God came into our world in a stable. Maybe you simply need to dwell on the love and humility of Christ and let that become your motivation for your Christmas activities.
This Christmas, I want to capture the glory, reverence and joy of the holiday instead of letting social media, the voices of our culture and my selfish desires subtly shape my holiday plans and activities. Through looking to the Nativity, I’m given a beautiful story that not only defines my faith but can also shape who and how I should host around my table.