By Michael C. Mack
I love our family traditions during the holiday season: taking a drive to see the lights, decorating the house together, going to local events, and, of course, attending church services together. Over the years, our family has worked to make our traditions much more fun, fulfilling, and mission-focused through the power of invitation.
One Thanksgiving almost 25 years ago, Heidi and I got to know a young man named Mark who lived at a homeless shelter. I invited him to some of our family and church events during the holidays, and he enjoyed getting out of the shelter and off the streets to spend time with us. Mark had many needs, some of which we could not provide for, but we could reach out to him and offer him friendship, hospitality, and the love of Jesus. My family and I also benefitted from inviting Mark into our family traditions. His presence with us made those traditions even more meaningful for us. It’s easy to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”; it’s another thing to go tell a homeless person that Jesus Christ is born.
This year, our home on Thanksgiving Day will be as full as our bellies after the meal! Three of our four 20-something kids will be home along with many of their friends. I use the word friends, but they have become more like our own family. Many of them call us Mom and Dad Mack, and we love it that way. Most of them are not Christ followers (though they may call themselves “Christians”) and have chosen lifestyles contrary to biblical teaching. They are the same kind of people Jesus loved to hang out with.
The reason we do this is simple. We just want to put ourselves into a position where God can use us to overflow his goodness and love and grace into the people he has placed in our lives. Heidi and I each see ourselves, as Mother Teresa once put it, as “a little pencil in the hand of a mighty God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”
Every one of us can do that.
What kind of new traditions can you begin this year? Perhaps you could do something with your small group, Sunday school class, or a few other friends from church. Each year several groups at my church, Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, help provide Thanksgiving meals for families who would otherwise not have a decent meal. These groups not only buy the meals, but also deliver them and pray for the families. That’s just one of many examples that this and other churches do to focus holiday celebrations outward rather than inward.
How do you plan to turn your family traditions inside-out this year? Please share your ideas in the replies, below.
Here in Davao City, Philippines, each December we’ll choose an evening or two. We go out to the areas where the homeless live, armed with a guitar and a hundred or so meals in plastic bags. We gather around them and sing a carol, and then we distribute the meals. While they eat, we respectfully tell them what Christmas is all about, and we offer to pray with them. Then we move on to the next folks we’ll find lying down on a sidewalk.
Thanks, John. Sounds great!