Tim Landis – As a child my parents were members of a small mission church located in an impoverish section of Lancaster city. The old red brick church featured a large neon cross with the words “Jesus Saves” in the center. The congregation was a mixture of Mennonites from outlying rural areas and people from the hood, many of which had various addictions and other challenges. At Christmas and other holidays my mother often invited some of these less fortunate souls to be part of our celebration activities and meal. As children we were less than thrilled to have to share our Christmas meal with that strange new family that smelled of cigarette smoke and who chewed with their mouths open.
For as long as I can remember, mom has always had a large wooden manger as the centerpiece at her Christmas meal. In the manger is a colorful assortment of small wrapped “stocking stuffer” gifts. After dad reads the Christmas story, mom picks up a gift and turns to the youngest child and says, “Do you know why we celebrate Christmas?” After getting the appropriate answer she then says, “Salvation is a free gift from God but we need to ask for it. It is your choice. Just like God gave us his Son Jesus, I am offering you this free gift if you want it. Do you want this gift?” Each person at the table is in turn asked the question before they can open their gift of a flashlight, breath mints, silly putty or what ever else caught her fancy at the dollar store.
I wish I could say that my wife and I are carrying on this family tradition of inviting needy people to our Christmas meal but that would not be true. We have done it a couple times with the most memorable being the time we invited Charles, a lonely bachelor, former NY cab driver and a spectacular hypochondriac to dinner. By the end of the meal my wife was in tears as every item of food was critically inspected and commented on. “Is this Turkey organic?” “Has this teabag been bleached?” and everything was either too hot, too cold, or would aggravate one of his many perceived medical conditions.
In a few days our family will travel to grandma and grandpa’s house for the Landis Christmas dinner. The manger will again be placed in the center of the table brimming with gifts for those willing to receive.