I grew up with a Mom who lived a humble hospitality. Holidays were acknowledged but without fanfare. Tasteful decorations indicated to visitors we knew which season it was, but no one thought we were trying to get into the home show.
My folks were a conservative bunch. Generous with the least of these, our resources were not meant to stop with us. I experienced this philanthropic value throughout my childhood, although it was never clearly stated, and for many years resented how my parents chose to spend their money. It was not on extras for us.
In college though, I took up the Poverty Equals Christianity banner and carried my family's history as a badge of pride. I took care to minimize my own possessions, secretly believing there was a special place in heaven for those who could cram all their belongings into only one vehicle. Annual trips to Salvation Army to purge the closet were my pilgrimage to the Mecca of Light Living.
Then I got married. My mother-in-law is a misplaced southern belle who likes pretty things. Her frequent visits to home decor sales were a pilgrimage of her own.
The first three years we were married, she brought poinsettias, wreaths or other home furnishings to help me make our apartment a home. I did my best with what she offered, but I told her I just didn't do much decorating. I'm friendly; my hospitality is in my personality, I thought.
That was, until a vase of flowers changed my mind.
This year we started Second Sunday Community Meals at church. Everyone brings something, and we all crunch together at sprawling round tables to eat. It's rowdy and delightful.
One day my friend Emma skipped bringing food and brought flowers instead. She tucked tiny buds into vases and stowed them in the center of each table. The room transformed.
That was the day I realized that stuff isn't bad. Furnishings and decor in a room create the ambience: an environment of austerity and sucking in your gut, or a habitat of relaxed homecoming.
The flowers were a welcome sign that day. A symbol to say, "We want you here so don't pack up and leave so quickly."
This year, all the Christmas decorations made it out of the attic. The Nativity scene. The tasseled red table runner. The centerpiece I meant to create last year but never got around to it. Even the silly stuffed Santa doing a handstand. And this year, it looked like Christmas at the Siders' House.
But it's not just things for things' sake. It's the Ministry of Stuff, the environment I create to welcome others into my life. It says "We want you here, and we made this place nice because you matter to us."
Emma didn't know she taught me this lesson. She didn't know because this is just a value she intuitively gets. She doesn't say it out loud, but it's in her life. And I want it in mine.
But I bet if Jesus had a house down here, he'd hang a pictures on the walls and a wreath on the door. Maybe a star on the tree. Candles would warm the corners with flickering fragrance. Hot cocoa in hand, we would all feel snug and welcome, knowing we're right where we belong.