We had a fistfight over Christmas lunch last year. It ended with my mum physically separating two guests and putting them on different floors of our house to calm down. Half an hour and a few glasses of water later, they grudgingly made up, then left our house saying what a lovely time they’d had. They’re both coming again this year.
I should explain: I live in a central London vicarage and we operate an ‘open home’ policy. The thing about having an ‘open home,’ you see, is that it’s not just open five days a week, excluding weekends and Bank Holidays. It’s open. All the time. Even on Christmas Day. And that means that anyone who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day is invited for lunch.
If that means you get an weird and wonderful amalgamation of 19 different personalities, ranging from those with serious mental and physical health issues to those who just showed up at your church that morning with nowhere else for Christmas lunch, then so be it. If that means you spend a good 30-minutes on Christmas Eve working out a seating plan to try and prevent any feuds between guests, then so be it. If that means you’re up till 3am peeling potatoes and laying the table, and then up again at 6am to put a massive turkey in the oven so it’s cooked in time for lunch, then so be it.
And if that means that, when you finally manage to settle down as a family of four at 8pm to open presents and watch a film, and the doorbell rings and someone who didn’t quite make it in time for lunch asks for some food, then so be it. You open the door, you invite them in, and you feed them. And then you smile politely and thank them when they present you with a Christmas gift of Calvin Klein underpants while standing on your doorstep. Yes, this really did happen.
This isn’t a post about how my Christmas is better, or more Christian, than yours, but for many people today, Christmas is cosy. It’s safe and it’s comfortable. A time for family and festive joys, for goodwill to all men. Well, only as long as it doesn’t impinge on our own comfort and celebrations.
I’m going to be honest with you: I think we’ve got the wrong idea about Christmas. I’m not saying I’ve got the right one, but I’m beginning to think we all need to broaden our horizons a little bit. If Christmas is a time for family, then it should be a time not just for safe, comfortable, blood-relative family, but a time for those in our family who would have nowhere else to go. Time for our church family – for those who don’t have a ‘real’ family to go home to after church on Christmas morning. Time for our brothers and sisters in Christ – the ones who make us slightly uncomfortable and whose habits don’t quite fit into our cosy world. Brothers and sisters who stand too close to you, who swear loudly and smell like a strange mix of cigarettes and stale urine. Family who show up, eat your food, and then leave without so much as a “thank you”, or a “Happy Christmas”.
Jesus wasn’t born into a conventional, cosy family. Jesus was born into mess. He was born into confusion, and uncomfortable surroundings. If we want to begin to understand something of the truth of Emmanuel; God with us, then we need to get out of our Christmas comfort zone.
Take it from me, there’s something beautiful about opening your home at Christmas, and opening it up to those who are not welcome anywhere else. There’s beauty in fellowship, which can be seen so clearly in 19 people from different backgrounds with different stories, different habits and different traditions, crowded round the Christmas dinner table, all wearing paper hats and singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. There’s a beauty to welcoming people into your very home, the centre of your family life, and watching as they begin to understand something about the God who welcomes everyone into his family, every day of the year.