The Single Most Important Aspect to Holiday Entertaining

dinner-tableIn the United States, Thanksgiving was just last week, which signals for us the beginning of the Holiday/Christmas season. Most often associated with the holiday season is hospitality. The parties we go to. The parties we throw. The food we eat. The food we prepare. The people we share meals with. The people gathered around our table on Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I often stress more about the food than is probably reasonable. I want the food to be perfect. It does not help that I am a former chef. In the restaurant the drive for perfection (which I recognize is never attainable) served me well. When customers are paying top price, they deserve my best efforts.

But in my own home it should be different. No one is paying to eat at my house, nor would I ever want them to. Hopefully people are coming because they enjoy me, Claire, and Hazelle, not because of my culinary skills. And I have extended an invitation to them because I enjoy their company and want to repast with my family.

If this is the case, and I believe it to be the case, I should worry less about the food and more about my guests.

I was recently reminded of some great quotes by, who many consider the father of modern gastronomic writing, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. He writes:

However, it must not be believed that all these adjuncts are indispensable to the enjoyment of the pleasures of the table. This pleasure can be savored almost to the full whenever the four following conditions are met with: food at least passable, good wine, agreeable companions, and enough time (page 184).

On the other hand, no matter how studied a dinner plan nor how sumptuous its adjuncts, there can be no true pleasures of the table if the wine be bad, the guest assembled without discretion, the faces gloomy, and the meal consumed with haste (page 185).

The primary purpose of hospitality is opening ourselves to another person. Or to quote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin again, “To invite people to dine with us is to make ourselves responsible for their well-being for as long as they are under our roofs” (page 4). I cannot do this if I am so preoccupied with the food and the details of the dinner. This means that it’s not wise to make a buerre blanc for a Christmas gathering. This also means that if my roast burns or if the meal turns out inedible, ordering pizza will be just fine (it might also mean opening the second bottle of wine a little earlier).

As I meditate on this idea at the start of the Christmas season, I am also challenged again by Jesus’ words to me regarding hospitality:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus challenges me that as I think about who to invite around my table, the point is never to be a tit-for-tat hospitality—“If I invite so-and-so, they might do this for me.” Rather Jesus calls me to look for the forgotten, the neglected, those who might not otherwise have a place. Jesus calls me to invite people radically different from myself over to feast and to laugh.

And let’s be honest: this is incredibly hard. During the holidays I want to spend time with the people closest to me; the people who have journeyed with me during the year. And those times are good and needed.

But are those the only people I am spending time with? How can I simplify my life, carve out space to reach out to someone who cannot repay me?

As a Christ follower, I am called to practice radical, inclusive hospitality. As a church we as Christ followers are called to practice radical inclusive hospitality. And now more so than ever does the world need to witness this radical, inclusive hospitality. And what better time than when we celebrate the King of kings and Lord of lords being born a baby in a manger, worshiped by shepherds?

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