The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated with red and green, tinsel and sparkle are everywhere, and Christmas dominates the airwaves with songs about the spirit of the season and the glories of gifts. We fast-forward our days stressing over making lists and checking them twice, racing to find the perfect gift, the perfect tree, decorating the house and matching our table settings with perfect color coordination. We bake goods, exchange gifts, pass out tasty treats, and we relish in the bounty of our tables. Christmas is about traditions that are uniquely yours and uniquely mine. It’s about moments and memories that make no sense to anyone else but our own individual families. But within all family gatherings, there is not a soul on earth who doesn’t have a mental vision of an empty chair where once sat a loved one.
I close my eyes. I see the world we are living in. I can feel the beating of a thousand desperate hearts. I can hear the cries of mothers who are losing their children each day. I can see the fear for tomorrow in the faces of people. I can feel the heartache for those who have lost loved ones due to wars. I can feel the pain of loss intensified, the weight of tragedies, divorces, diseases, divided families, depression, and disaster. I breathe in. I breathe out. I am moved beyond the limits of my humanity. While I do believe in the joy of Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, Christmas recitals, Christmas outreach events and Christmas charities, this year in particular, I don’t want to lose sight of those whose table of life has an empty chair. I want this Christmas to be the one where we assume the empty chair not just in our lives but also in the lives of others.
The empty chair symbolizes what plagues our world today as we consider all the empty chairs in our lives. We don’t need to experience a personal physical loss to assume the empty chair. We all know someone who needs to be fed; someone who needs a listening ear or a shoulder to rest on; someone who needs shelter, a hug, a smile. We see violence, suffering and injustice happening in and around our world. Sometimes we are silent; sometimes we speak out and take action. But most of the time, we are rapt in the competitive chaos of making things perfect for our tables. And after a while we become numb to the repeats of tragedy and loss. The problems of the world are beyond us, we say. We tut-tut, shake our heads and go on with the want for Christmas to be the picture-perfect day. And somewhere in the frazzle dazzle, we lose the context of Christmas, found in the simplicity of a manger.
Our empty chairs are not necessarily those of wars or misfortunes in foreign lands, far from sight and far from reach. They’re close to home and in our own backyard. Is there someone going through Christmas dinner and seeing the empty chair of a loved one for the first time? Is there a mother who needs to be consoled? A father who needs to be contacted? A child who needs to be brought home off the streets? Is there an elderly in need of company? A friend with a disability? A family who has lost a home? Is there anybody who needs to be brought back to that table of life? It takes courage to assume the chairs at the table of our lives. It takes courage to assume the chair after feeling destitude by life circumstances. Could you be the one, who is big enough to call these people, write to them, visit them, talk to them, listen to them and reignite their appetite for life? Could you be the one to bring them back to the table of life with your care and love?
This Christmas, the love and wisdom of God incarnate found in the simplicity of a manger compels me to put down the cookie cutters, and step away from matching gift-wrap. I will use homemade ornaments and find joy in crooked trees and mismatched dinnerware. My house may not smell like fresh-baked goods and my tree may not sparkle, but I will relish at my table of life full with affection and fraternity from one end to the other, overflowing with room for the empty chairs in our lives and us.
It will be perfect. Merry Christmas!