“Is there a seat for me at this table?” Perhaps no other question defines the essence of Christian hospitality. We are a people whose worship services are defined by the remembrance and reenactment of a Jewish Passover meal. This meal, according to tradition and custom, was celebrated around a table. The parameters of the Eucharist, while cosmic and ultimately indefinable, are shaped by the idea of the table. Whether the altar rail functions as our table or we gather around a physical table, we want to know that when the bread is broken and the cup is shared there will be enough space for everyone. No one, even the Judas’ among us, should be excluded from this unique, all-encompassing communal experience. This is what we learn from Jesus.
What is the sound you hear on this first Wednesday in Advent? It is the blacksmith’s anvil forging swords into plowshares? Yes, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I also pray it is the sound of your neighbor scooting over and making a little room at a table that isn’t theirs. Christmas isn’t our party. We are all like John McClain (Bruce Willis) in the Die Hard movies. Barefoot and unprepared for anything; we arrive ready to serve others. We’re all working guests, halfwit bridesmaids, hedgerow dwellers, and someone’s last minute choice pulled in from the darkness and ushered into the Kingdom. Welcome to Bethlehem, pal!
There are no saved seats in the kingdom of God. We cannot reserve that which is not ours to claim. This baby we’re all waiting on, the one we call “Emmanuel”, is the place saver. Our world, which thrives on the daily cycles of scarcity and abundance, demands we know what is ours, places to be reserved, deposits made, and the future secured. The baby, the infant, the child, the one we call “God with us”, saves a single place for each of us, our family, our friends, and the world. This place is insecure and puts us far beyond our comfort zones, conversational norms, familial bonds, and how we define love. The Good News is this: despite these insecurities and challenges, God is with us. Spoiler alert: That’s the meaning of Christmas.
My question is this: are we with God? Are we “Emmanuel” people? Are we prepared to have God challenge who we love, how we love, who we talk to, how we relate to friends and families, and who gets a seat at the table? If not prepared for the baby’s challenge, you’re not ready for Christmas.
Richard Lowell Bryant