This Thanksgiving will be different. No doubt about it. Regardless if you traditionally spend it with large groups of extended family, visiting out-of-town friends, or welcoming over elderly neighbors, this year might not be the same. With the ramping up of coronavirus cases you are probably wrestling with the option to stay home or quarantine in complete safety.
A few years ago, my friend Emily presented me with the book “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”, by Joanna Weaver. First thought was, that’s curious, how is this author going to present a book on pious mother Mary and creative cooking genius Martha Stewart? You can laugh and call me naïve, little did I know that it is based on Jesus’ good friends, Mary and Martha, who were fantastic hostesses, yet each took a different approach while entertaining.
You probably remember the story, and can likely picture yourself in both female roles too:
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
Many of us can relate to Martha. She is doing all the work and her second set of hands is lounging in the other room. Yet Jesus wants us to look past her preparations. He knows her hard work is important. They lived in a culture where hospitality was a social requirement, and she excelled at it. She had great attention to detail, possibly with a slant toward perfectionism. Yet Jesus is telling Martha that her attitude is misplaced, that her focus shouldn’t be on worrying about the tasks, because they are preventing her from being able to relax and serve her guests. I’m not talking about passing the food to her guests, but Biblically serving – generously supplying the needs of her guests, overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God (2 Corinthians 9:12-13). I’m sure Martha didn’t like this response, especially since it appears that little sister Mary is avoiding her chores. But Mary understood there was something special happening that day. She was compelled to place herself at her guest’s feet, desiring to be present with Him, in the posture of reverence and worship.
Their story of service and worship is still relevant today. There is such busyness preparing for the event, that we often forget how to be intimate and vulnerable while our guests are there. For those readers who hope to gather for the holidays, I bet you are already considering your food options: instead of family-style platters, should you provide individualized portions in anti-spreading coronavirus protected plastic cups? Instead of a large dining room table with as many chairs pulled up to promote closeness and boisterous conversations, should you sit family units together at separate tables? All of these thoughts are good precautions and prep, but have you also considered how you might take a Mary posture to relax and enjoy your guests once they arrive?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus preaches about worry. (Don’t Worry). His desire is that we relinquish our perceived control and instead rely on God to guide us to where He wants our time spent.
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well“. Luke 12:27-31
What especially hits home in the parable above is that God provides not only basic provision (food, water, clothing) and He does so with beauty. Take a walk and you will see this beauty in His creation: from gorgeous sunrises, color palettes on tree leaves, patterns on snowflakes. So, if it brings you happiness (and no stress) to add holiday decor or festive foods, your guests will appreciate the beauty you created for them, but you don’t need to. You serve their soul with your hard work.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:32-34
As the prior verse continues, God also supplies the provision of love. We see intimacy in the relationship between Mary, Martha, their brother Lazarus and Jesus. They are emotionally invested with each other, spending quality hours together, as well as serving and worshiping together. They clearly love one another (John 11:5), and we even get to see the very human side of Jesus as He wept with them. (Raising Lazarus from the dead).
Because these siblings were such a part of Jesus’ life, we also get to see how they transform. On a visit to Bethany, after the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus is again dining at Martha’s home. Martha is still serving, yet this time she is quiet. She has learned that worship begins with silence and listening. Mary might have been more keenly aware that the end was near, she took a pint of pure nard, and “poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”. (John 12:1-3) Mary’s heart has been transformed too. She is still worshipping Jesus, and this day she was serving him with an act of humility, love and generosity*. Together the sisters’ worship and service provided their family a legacy, their names to be forever remembered.
Gathering will be different this year. Are there areas you can change your posture towards service and worship instead of worry and frazzle? How can you choose to be more present this holiday season? What could your family do to create a legacy of intimate friendship and fellowship?
Pray with me:
Lord – as we head into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, please nudge me into a position of service and worship. Teach me how to sit in a seat of humility, or literally at someone else’s feet, to listen and find empathy for their different perspective. Give me opportunities to listen to family members and friends, to really understand what brings them joy and what causes them fear. Amen
* Most likely Mary had purchased the nard for embalming her brother Lazarus. Its cost was one year’s worth of wages. Mary saw Jesus as her Messiah and also as her Brother.