This is My Christmas Story.
A Place for Everyone.
Mom’s house on Christmas Eve is packed. Cousins. Kiddos. Aunts and Uncles. Extended families. New boyfriends or girlfriends. New babies. It has been going on for decades. We all show up with food and presents and wine and beer. We stand in the kitchen and the living room and the den and the dining room. Only the little kids get presents now. It’s gotten too big for anyone to ever get every single person a gift…But no one is there for the gifts anyway.
The house gets a little too warm. Folks drink a little too much. But no one leaves. Someone opens the back door or turns on the air or takes a nap in a chair. There is a kids’ table and an “older kids’” table. And my mom gives “special” gifts to people in our family…complete with presentations. There is never ample parking, and never an exotic menu…but everyone shows up. Most of us don’t have much in common anymore. We may not even talk much outside of this one event. But we arrive because of an annual invitation from Peggy Martin. My mother, The Christmas Eve Saint. And she doesn’t care how long it has been, where you have been, or what you have been up to…she wants you there…on Christmas Eve… in her home. The invitation is standing.
This is the place we exhale. This is the place we put years of baggage down. Nothing seems to matter on this one night except togetherness. My Uncle Randy’s prayer. Aunt Karen’s salad with ramen noodles. Whether Ben gets off work. If anyone has the flu…bring them anyway. You are missed if you aren’t here. I’m proud of my kids. I’m proud of my husband. I’m proud of the sweet potatoes I make every year. And all the things that went wrong or right in life are gone…You are welcome here. The door is always open. This is my mom’s house on Christmas Eve.
My Mom Built a Manger.
Out of This Crazy Love.
My Mom Built a Manger for Her Entire Family.
I work on 6th Street at this great little company with a weird name, Mitscoots. I’m floored every time I walk through the lime green door complete with the chalk board sign saying, “Open…Come on In”. Socks and beanies and shirts and scarves. Buy one and they give one to someone in need. It’s beautiful. But what takes place on the other side of that lime green door is my favorite miracle. The miracle of an ordinary manger. This little company employs the transitioning homeless. They bring inside the people on the outside. They have built a manger on 6th Street in Austin, TX. A place where anyone is welcome. No really. Anyone.
I have watched hipsters and the homeless and the part time housewives talk sock production, art, life on the streets and what to do for Thanksgiving all in a day’s work. We drink coffee, and listen to Spotify…an age range of close to thirty years. Doctorates to drop outs. Part time workers to Founders of the company. The homeless. The home buyers. We are an HR dream come true. Different races. Different religions. Different reactions to the curve balls life has thrown us. And here we are behind a lime green door. “Open…Come On In.” Everyone can exhale here. Walk through that door and you have stumbled upon an Ordinary Manger.
We Are Meant to Build Them.
And Then Open Them. To Everyone.
And I keep thinking about those shepherds on the very first Christmas…all stinky and worn out from tending sheep. All it took was an invitation (a great invitation) and they were on their way to a manger. And Mary…knowing the rocky road of obedience…no scorn, no shame, no closed doors in an open manger. And Joseph …marrying a girl who was already pregnant…it had been a crazy year. But the manger. The manger was open. The manger was filled full of everyone. The manger is where God marries the common with the uncommon. The manger is where creation exhales…God Finally With Us. A Manger. God is with us in ordinary mangers.
And can I just be clear, y’all? It’s been a hard year for all of us. Could we just admit we don’t need another building or another building campaign? We don’t need new and improved programming or a more efficient parking lot. We don’t need options for engaging curriculum or a step by step guide to raise the most godly children ever. We don’t need photo ops or orchestrated somber moments. We need a good old fashioned manger. We need places where nothing else matters except love and Jesus and if you don’t know Jesus yet, all this love will sure as heck help you see His face. Y’all. We don’t need something overdone and over-valued…we need everything undone with the only thing Jesus values: Love and Us. Love and you and me and all those people you pass by every single day…the really great folks and the really crappy ones too…and places where they are wanted and a hug and smile and a “What have you been up to?” awaits them all.
If You Can’t Find One…Build One.
If You Are Not Invited…Invite Others.
No Fancy Inn has Any Room.
You Know the Story. Open the Manger.
When God threw His son a homecoming party, He chose a manger. He chose His people at their best…humble and kind…in awe of Jesus together. A random group only God could orchestrate…And through stars and shepherds and angels and babies and a young couple and some cattle too…God whispered, “Do this again and again…” Mangers are everywhere…waiting for us to step on in. Don’t be afraid to hold the door open while you exhale.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit – not brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:15-19 MSG
This is My Christmas Story.