My mother wasn’t the best at being a mom. We didn’t share a whole lot of mother-daughter moments and my memories of her are not as joy-filled as I would like. Yet, I think of her at Christmas time. She hated Christmas and didn’t always cope with the stress of the holidays in healthy ways. However, I learned the deeper meaning of Christmas from my mother. She didn’t believe in God and didn’t participate in the religious aspects of the season, but she did something more important.
Christmas Day was the day my mother was at her best. Each year she began baking and making candy the day after Thanksgiving. She prepared for Christmas dinner for weeks. By Christmas Day the dining room table was laden with crystal, china, and silver. It was beautiful and extravagant every year. You wouldn’t guess that the formal dining room was seldom used. On Christmas it wasn’t the dark, cold room you passed through on the way to the kitchen; it was the center of warmth and hospitality.
You see, you never knew who was going to show up at Christmas dinner. My mother would invite anyone and everyone. Sometimes it would be her co-workers who would have been alone otherwise. Some years the guests included my father (they didn’t have an amicable divorce) when he didn’t have another place to go. Most of the time I knew all the people at the table, but not always. My mother’s hospitality on Christmas Day was all the more amazing because she generally preferred a quiet house. It was her hospitality that taught me that Christmas is about so much more than presents and lights and carols.
Each year as I remember my mother, I also remember a deep yearning for those feelings of welcome and generosity to last more than a day. As I think about those years of yearning and longing for happier and healthier family, for a place to belong, a place to be welcomed and known, I wonder about that first Christmas. In a stable in Bethlehem, in an out of the way place in a crowded city, a woman gave birth to a baby. An ordinary event became extraordinary as people noticed. Everyone who visited, so the story goes, received welcome and found a place at the manger. God broke into the world to offer everyone a place.
Christmas Day brought out the best in my mother. I wish Christmas could be this way for all of us. I wish that we could all share the very best of ourselves and find a place at a table with friends, family, and strangers. Of course, this isn’t possible, but what is possible is to find a place at the manger. God welcomes us no matter how we arrive in Bethlehem. Think of Mary and Joseph – travel worn and weary. Then there were the shepherds straight from the fields – hurried and smelly. After them, before the Magi, came the ordinary folks (so ordinary that scripture doesn’t mention them) – some of them broken, some of them hopeless, some of them ill. Then came the Magi with their expensive gifts. All were accepted; none were turned away.
If you have made it to the manger this year, to kneel before the new born Christ, then you, too, will find a place of welcome, a place where you are known. It won’t change everything, but knowing that Love came into the world (and keeps coming again, and again) and offers each of us a place, might bring a bit of hope, peace, joy and love into the days to come.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com