It’s a bit awkward, and she’s willing to admit that openly. But it’s worth it.
Every single year, Jessica’s parents seek out people who are going to be alone on Christmas and invite them to their home. Now, when I say that, I know you’re thinking that they invite one or two people to share their nicely set table in their cozy home where family is gathered. That’s exactly what I had pictured. But then she told me about the year where they hosted 150 people….
Yeah – Jessica’s family invites more than just the few friends that happen to not be going “home” for the holidays. They invite everyone they know who has experienced loss this year; everyone who’s going through tough financial times; everyone who’s going through a bout of depression…everyone they know who needs somewhere to be on Christmas other than inside their own 4 walls.
And Jessica works at an Albuquerque Title 1 public school…one in which over 50% of the student population receives food services. How many families do you think she’s invited this year? All she says is, “It’s just what we’ve always done. It can be a little awkward sometimes, but it also causes all these relationships to be built between people who are sharing a common experience…suffering. And it brings them joy and laughter and community, hopefully for more than just one evening. People exchange information and we all get to know each other better. We end up saying hi when we see one another, when we probably would have just walked past each other before. Sometimes people will make plans to get together after Christmas. It helps us all become friends.”
Have you ever accepted an invitation like this? Some of Jessica’s parents’ guests hardly even know them, much less the other guests there. But that’s the thing: community, even awkward, imperfect community, is far preferable to loneliness….especially when you’re going through tough times.
I get it…this sounds like a guilt trip. It’s not. This actually isn’t about your or me or Jessica at all. It’s about Jesus Himself.
There can be no greater loss, no greater loneliness, than separating oneself from the love of God. And we’ve all done it…
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23
“as it is written: ‘None is righeous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12
Every one of us has chosen our own way, believing we would do a better job of running our lives than God. We’ve hated, we’ve gossiped, we’ve lied, we’ve cheated. We’ve convinced ourselves we don’t need Him. We’ve murdered and judged and run away. We’ve broken His heart. Does He have every right to abandon us? He doesn’t need us after all. He could simply concern Himself with Himself for the rest of eternity, not giving humanity a second thought. This is what we wanted, after all…to run our own lives without having to be accountable to Him…or to anyone, for that matter.
But no. He came back for us. And He came with an invitation.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
Weary and heavy-laden. Is that you? It is you. It’s me too. We are weary and heavy-laden with worry, sadness, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, and fear. We make ourselves weary with all our work than never seems to yield the satisfaction we thought it would. We are heavy-laden with others’ expectations of us and often, our expectations of ourselves. We are weary from trying to make ourselves into something remarkable, and failing over and over. We are tired from the never-ending battle between good and evil we find within our own minds and hearts. We are heavy-laden with the burden of never being able to be “good enough”.
What does it take to accept the invitation to Jessica’s Christmas? It takes acknowledgement of the fact that though it might be awkward, though it might be strange, what Jessica’s Christmas offers is so much better than the lonely, sad, difficult Christmas I had planned for myself.
I don’t know…maybe you’re on the fence about this whole God thing. Maybe you’ve distanced yourself from Him over the years. Maybe He’s allowed tragedy in your life and you’re wondering if He really is who you thought He was. Maybe you’ve ditched Him because it feels like His expectations of you are too high. Or maybe you think you’ve screwed things up too badly for Him to want anything to do with you anymore.
Can I just say this one thing?
God holds that invitation out to you now. He does not regret having put Himself out there, though you reject Him. He does not wish you were more like your sister or more like your mom or more like your friend. And what He holds out to you is not oppressive rules and rituals and demands. It is everlasting relationship; it is abundant life; and it is, I promise you, infinitely better than the loneliness that we plan for ourselves by rejecting Him. He loves YOU, and He just wants you to COME.
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, and buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me…” – Isaiah 55:1-3a
You can almost hear it, like Jessica’s parents’ invitation:
“Come…rest. Come…find joy. Come…be filled. Come…you are wanted! Come…you are loved.”
And those of us who are in the church…may we never forget that the invitation is not meant for us alone. Jessica’s parents offer their small home to all who will come; and the eternal house of God is open to ALL who will come.
“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16
Will we invite the person who disagrees with us politically? Will we invite the one who disagrees with our doctrine? Will we invite the one who thinks we’re ridiculous for believing?
At Jessica’s Christmas, no one gets “fixed”. No one receives counseling, no one gets food stamps, no loved ones are raised from the dead. Jessica’s family knows they are incapable of fixing the problems of every person walking through the door. However, they open their hearts to receive and hug and laugh with and hold the hurting who walk through their doors. They provide a safe, welcome place for their fellow humans to be themselves and to enjoy being with others in the spirit of love and friendship.
Christian, this is what we are to be to the world. May we see ourselves as those who have been freely and graciously given an invitation that’s too good to keep to ourselves. May we remember that we received this invite by no merit of our own, but only by the grace of the Host Himself. We are not His mighty “people fixers”. We are undeserving guests; guests that get to become His children. And He’s told us to go get the word out.
What will that look like for you and me this year? If we’re committed to our mission…to getting the invite out to as many people as possible…it will mean more than inviting people to church. It will mean inviting them into our lives…into real relationship. It will mean awkward moments, disagreements that we cover with grace, apologies, humility, and sacrifice. It will mean seeing people as as humans instead of projects. It will mean seeing ourselves as just as broken and needy as those with whom we share our invite.
Maybe we just need to start here. Read these truths again with me, and let it really sink in. Jesus came to invite you, long before you cared a bit for Him. He came to invite you long before you were ever sorry for anything. He came to invite you because He really does love you.
Jessica’s parents believe it, and their belief makes it easy for them to open their home, their hearts, their lives, to all who would come.
What will happen when you and I really believe?
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost’” – Luke 19:10
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” – Ephesians 2:13
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8