Peggy snapped a picture of our Thanksgiving table before anyone moved a salad fork. The spread could have made it onto the cover of Southern Living Magazine. Arranged on white linen was our best china, our inherited silver, pewter candlesticks adorned with dried leaves and red nandina berries, and Hallmark "pilgrim" salt and pepper shakers. Cranberry sausage dressing steamed beside a plump, perfectly browned turkey with stuffed sweet potatoes and an array of other tantalizing culinary delights. Our guests were no less colorful. Yoon, a Korean student who just moved into our neighborhood and Tolga, her newly arrived friend from Turkey (both of whom were trying to master the English language) politely took their seats. Bessie, an 83 year old African American woman who had been a maid all her life, sat at the end of the table. Shelly, an urban planning graduate student on our street and Linda from FCS staff also joined our family for this thankful celebration. The eight of us fit comfortably around the dining room table, which I had extended by one leaf for the occasion.
After a prayer of thanksgiving for our guests, for the marvelous food and the care that had gone into its preparation, and for the abundance of life through Christ, Peggy served the first course - a delightful squash bisque. The conversations matched the food in richness. Bessie told us what it was like as a little girl living behind the "big house" and helping her mother prepare Thanksgiving dinner for their rich white land owners. Tolga shared about the traditional week-long feasting and celebration in his Muslim homeland. We talked of our histories and shared humorous and heartwarming stories from our childhoods. The meal culminated with a choice of pumpkin and/or apple pie and we all retired to the living room around a glowing fire to continue the homey fellowship.
Just down the street, another Thanksgiving dinner was in progress. All afternoon a stream of shabbily dressed folk drifted in and out of Billy and Tammy Lee Hogan's little volunteer built house. Turkey meat, mashed potatoes and gravy, beans and some other fixin's were heaped all over their eat-in kitchen. Plastic plates and styrofoam cups were conveniently stacked so that people could help themselves. A single mother was there with her four kids who were living in an unheated house around the corner. The four Hogan kids helped entertain them by chasing them all over the house and out the front door, taking little care to avoid the strings of Christmas lights that were draped around the yard. Several homeless men were sitting around with plates on their laps enjoying the feast. One of them humorously boasted that he had a new multi-million dollar home - a bridge that the highway department had recently completed. The laughter, the smells, the confusion of 30-some people running in and out all afternoon, happy kids spilling gravy on the carpet, country Christmas music blaring from the boombox - this was Thanksgiving dinner of a very different sort. But it was rich with thanksgiving none-the-less.
I have always been comforted by the belief that our God is a God of order and beauty. Something deep in my subconscious draws me consistently toward symmetry and thoughtful arrangement. This manifests itself in the design of our home and the management of my organization, and in less visible ways in the order of my closet and cleanliness of my desk. It is quite natural, then, that I should be attracted to a systematic theology that affirms God's orderly character. But some of my neighbors see God quite differently. To them, God is much more spontaneous, far more concerned about substance than presentation. They see Him as the kind of Father who would spend his whole paycheck on turkeys to share with needy neighbors rather than budget it for next month's bills. To Him, beauty is the laughter of homeless men with full stomachs rather than the charming decor of a warmly appointed living room. They think He is less concerned about greasy hand prints on the walls than about fatherless neighborhood kids having a romping good time in a warm home.
God entered human culture and personality to show us that we are all His beloved. As the author of gift-giving, He wanted us to know the joy of giving gifts to each other. And know, too, that every expression of kindness given from a caring heart, whether from that of shepherd or king, is a cherished gift to Him. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. This season more than any other reassures us that our gifts, be they humble or expensive served on china or plastic in places chaotic or picture-perfect, are of great beauty to the One who created us uniquely and called us His beloved.
Warm Christmas wishes, Bob Lupton