Some years ago now we started a custom in our family where at our Christmas table we set a place for Jesus, napkin holder and all. On Christmas Day we go about our celebration and sometimes even forget about the place set for Jesus. For all the years that we have followed this ritual ‘Jesus’ has always shown up, sometimes in the guise of a neighbor who had moved away and stopped by on a visit to their old stomping grounds; often friends of our children who had moved away after college and return only at the holidays sit in the reserved seat; very often we have had dear friends or relatives show up unexpectedly to join us; one year we ended up with seven additional spots added for Jesus as an entire family knocked on the door.
We love this custom and, as there has never been a year when someone unexpected hasn’t shown up to sit in Jesus’ seat, we truly look forward to the surprise. This practice has on occasion given new meaning to ‘don’t eat until everyone else has been served’ as it is difficult to prepare for the unexpected. Yet, trust me; no one has ever gone hungry here.
We’ve had such fun with this that we have extended it to the entire week before Christmas. For example: if we go out to dinner during this week we will ask for a table for three even if we are only two. We don’t make an issue of our reasoning when being seated but we know that the extra seat is for Jesus. We have on occasion been joined for dinner by someone unexpected and we have always had a friend, neighbor or workmate stop by our table and visit for a spell.
Our purpose here is to remind ourselves that this Christmas celebration is about the coming of Jesus Christ. As Christians we look forward to the ‘party’ denoting His Birth as we do the birthdays of our children and grandchildren.
So, here it is two days before the grand day and I’m scheduled to have a wee Christmas breakfast with the Lord Mayor of Shrewsbury, Donald Burden. Unbeknownst to the mayor a dear friend of his and mine has returned from Boston for a Christmas visit with family in Shrewsbury. This visitor, known to anyone who has lived in Shrewsbury for 15 minutes prior to this past spring, is Carol Clark, daughter of the late, great, former Shrewsbury Chief of Police and former Mayor – Bucky Mass. Visiting with Carol yesterday I told her of my breakfast with the mayor and said, “Why don’t you join us and we’ll surprise Donald.”
I got to the restaurant first and asked for a table for three. The Lord Mayor arrived about five minutes later. When he saw the third place setting I explained the ‘Jesus’ seating. He grinned and passed over my explanation without note. About 15 minutes later we were deep in discussion when Donald (facing the entrance door) looked up and said, “Jesus!” as he saw Carol Clark walking toward our table. Without turning I said to the mayor, “See, you never know when He’ll show up.”
For those of you who will celebrate the Birth of Christ this Christmas Day I wish you Jesus at your table – either in the person of a missed loved one; a long ago neighbor returned for a visit; a friend you haven’t seen in ages; or in the spirit of peace as you share this joyous day with those that you love.
C.M. McLoughlin, a writer and editor from New Jersey and New York, can be reached at email@example.com.