What does Christmas look like in your house?

Seems a ridiculous question to be asking at this time of year, I know. But whenever I consider the power of sharing food, I always consider Christmas lunch at my parents’ house.

Whenever I consider the power of sharing food, I always consider Christmas lunch at my parents’ house.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas has never been ‘just family time’. We have never had a Christmas with just the four of us and, in the last eight years, it’s been more like ‘just the 17 of us’… the vast majority of whom are in no way related to anyone else around the table.

You see, my parents are vicars, and we operate an ‘open home’ policy. This means a surprisingly literal interpretation of Luke 14:12-14:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or your sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

We now have a tradition of inviting anyone who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day over for lunch. Last year, we had 24 round the table for lunch, and we did six meals-on-wheels for a family who couldn’t get to us.

This isn’t Buckingham Palace, it’s a vicarage during the busiest part of the church’s year.

What does that look like? Well, first up, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a banquet. The food is excellent, of course (thanks, Mum!), but everyone only has one set of cutlery for the meal, we’re surrounded by random mess, the placemats don’t match, and there’s a perpetually hungry and unfailingly hopeful Labrador sniffing around for any dropped crumbs. This isn’t Buckingham Palace, it’s a vicarage during the busiest part of the church’s year.

It’s not perfect. It’s messy. It looks – and feels – like hard work. One year, two guests had a fist fight. Another year, someone arrived drunk, ate a few mouthfuls, and then threw up all over himself and the dinner table. That took the idea of ‘messy’ to a whole new level. It certainly wasn’t ‘merry and bright’.

But – as is so often the way in God’s economy – it’s also glorious. Five years ago, at the end of another messy, glorious dinner, one of our guests put his arms around my mum and said quietly, through his tears: ‘I’ve spent the last 20 years alone at Christmas. This year, you’ve reminded me what family looks like, and what it feels like to be loved.’

Maybe all they wanted was to find family at Christmas, to be reminded of what community feels like, to get a taste not just of roast potatoes and honey-glazed parsnips but of genuine love.

So maybe it’s not about how neat things are. Maybe it doesn’t matter that that was the year we had to feed everyone chicken because we realised late on Christmas Eve that the turkey was rotten… and so raided the freezer for any form of frozen poultry we could find. Maybe people actually didn’t care that the stuffing was ever-so-slightly overcooked. Maybe all they wanted was to find family at Christmas, to be reminded of what community feels like, to get a taste not just of roast potatoes and honey-glazed parsnips but of genuine love as well – from the hosts and from the mis-matched bunch of individuals around the table, wearing ridiculous paper hats and singing ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ with an enthusiasm that more than made up for the lack of tunefulness.

It was never about doing it perfectly, it was about blessing those around us. About loving those who the world had written off. About offering community to those who had none. About realising the utter beauty of welcoming people into our very home, the centre of our family life, and watching as they begin to understand something about the God who welcomes everyone into His family, every day of the year.

Invite the poor… and you will be blessed.