It’s a rainy evening in Victoria square, the center of Athens. The lights on the trees outside my window look like they fell out of the sky and plastered on the skinny little trees lining the square. I’ve dried the orange slices and hung them over the doorway, and when I have a spare baking minute I slide something gingerbread-y in the oven to eat with fresh whipped cream spiced with clove and cinnamon. The advent candles of HOPE and PEACE have been flickering on the table today, shining bright into the anxious parts of my heart.
I was meandering downtown last night with a few of the little girls, hoping to show them something bright and fun for Christmas. Their little hearts are often stressed and they don’t have the normalcy of fun Christmas outings and decorating trees. I took them to see the biggest tree in the city, and we walked past shops decorated beautifully for the season. Street vendors were selling roasted chestnuts and corn. A clown on stilts made a puppy and a heart balloon. The littlest face was quiet and a little frightened at all the bustle. She started her normal chatter as soon as we got onto the dirty metro to head back to our city square.
I looked over at Eric and said, “She’s more comfortable in the places she knows.”
Sometimes our heart breaks for people in hard places but we really don’t know what they need. Desperate to fix something or someone, or even feel good about ourselves we grasp at what we know to give. Over Christmas time, millions of programs will provide hot dinners and fresh cookies as volunteers will pass out donated gifts. Your church may have a special program for the homeless, or donate gift boxes online. There are thousands of ways to distance ourselves from people while simultaneously feeling great about our benevolence. The children are happy with bright toys and hungry bellies may warm with physical food, but there is often so much missing in many attempts to love well at Christmas time.
Which Jesus are you celebrating this Christmas?
The Jesus I know was born in a barn. The Jesus I know came down and made His home with us. He said something like this, “When you have your feasts and dinners, make sure you don’t just invite your close family and friends, but warmly welcome the strangers and homeless to your tables.”
The Jesus I know could have decided he needed a break from us, and moved back and forth from heaven. He could have decided He wanted to come as a king and give us large physical gifts from a palace. He could rightly have sat on a golden throne in the city square and won the esteem of everyone.
But instead He sat and ate with us. He had a woman wiping his feet with her hair. He touched lepers and shame-filled women and literally made His home with us. He had nothing physical to give, and everything we are all longing for this Christmas. The masses followed Him then, and they still do now because something profound happens in the soul when the Creator of heaven and earth stoops to look at you straight in the face and accepts you as family.
One day His disciples told him, “Your Mother and brothers are at the door!” And Jesus asked them, “Who is my Mother and my brothers? Isn’t that all of you? Whoever does the will of God is my Mother, and sister, and brother.”
If the church could catch the profound nature of these words, we might give a lot less gifts this Christmas and a lot more of ourselves; genuine love without any strings of self, unconditional belonging without expectations. We might stop feeling good about donating more, and start being comfortable with inviting in. There is chasm greater than any of us think between setting a place at a table in your personal home, and handing a donated box of hot food at a program on the thursday before Christmas.
Outside my apartment I often notice the complete disconnect on the faces I pass. Some of the women scream helplessly into the square and people stare at the noise and distance themselves. I always wonder when the shattering started deep inside and when the absolute loss of connection began. And I think of Mary, who Jesus found filled with demons and invited to follow Him.
Jesus didn’t hop in and out of our lives because we were too broken. He didn’t have a royal family in a palace that He retreated to after all His good deeds were finished for the day. He said He wants to make His home with us, so He ate and slept and taught with us. And He did it all with this genuine love that shocked them all then and still awes us now.
As I walked along all the pretty shops last night, I was reminded how empty it all is when we don’t celebrate the true Jesus. Hurt and pain doesn’t pause the month of December while we wrap our gifts and bake our gingerbread. Loneliness and isolation manifests more than ever as the thousands that have no family watch us all gather around family tables while they eat the crumbs of our chivalrous efforts. Cookies don’t heal souls, and a hot meal handed to someone in a line with a ticket number doesn’t speak belonging.
But oh, how His extravagant love does!
This love moves over and invites in. This love doesn’t only call strangers friends, but invites them in as sister, Mother, and brother without any feelings of benevolence because it is the very heart beat of Jesus. This love doesn’t step in and out of brokenness, but says, “Come make your home with me.” Like the little girl last night, those who have very little are more comfortable with our extravagant love then all the pizzazz and hustle of our “perfect Christmas season.”
I wonder, how would it be if we doubled our tables and expanded our hearts on December 25th this year? What if our invitation list expanded to “whoever does the will of God is my Mother, brother, and sister?” What if we refused to celebrate anything but the true Jesus who left all royalty and accolades and became one of us; touching us, healing us, eating with us.
That is the Jesus I love. That is the Jesus I celebrate. Join me in spreading His extravagance this season!