Here’s some news to increase the stress level of any woman out there: Christmas is only nine days away and New Year’s Eve is a week after that! For a season that is most often billed as joyful celebrations filled with family togetherness, the upcoming holidays sometimes become just another acceptable opportunity get stressed. It does not have to be this way, however. Holiday get-togethers with family and friends can also present us with the perfect opportunities to work on our “inner Mary” and our “inner Martha.”
With this phrase, I am of course alluding to the famous set of Biblical sisters, Mary and Martha. It is recorded in the Gospels that Jesus visited these sisters and their brother Lazarus on more than one occasion. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that in Luke 10:38-42, Martha appears to have become so close with Jesus as to have completely lost her appreciation for who He was. Instead of demonstrating awe and admiration of Jesus, Martha begins tattling on her sister, Mary. In the process of hosting a dinner for Jesus and His disciples, “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!’”
Wow. Can you even imagine? To welcome the Lord Jesus into your home, and immediately involve Him in a sibling dispute? Well, Jesus was savvy enough not to get caught in the middle of a squabble between sisters.
“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered,” in the next verse, “‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Now it has to be said that both sisters loved Jesus, and that both were doing their best to serve Him. As holiday hostesses we need to have an “inner Martha” or a part of ourselves that is on the ball enough to do the bulk of the planning, shopping, decorating, and cooking ahead of time. Jesus did not reprimand Martha for being concerned about the details. He simply pointed out that her priorities, and therefore her timing, were a little off. This story of family dynamics reveals the idea that true, Christian hospitality is not measured in the quantity or quality of food served, by the cleanliness of one’s house, or by the number of matching place settings and serving dishes one has. True hospitality is measured by the amount of love offered and attention given, even if the guests are “only” our family members and close friends.
How long has it been, if ever, since we really looked at each member of our family and saw a unique individual deserving of love, not because they are always so lovable, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God? Is it possible that, like Martha with Jesus, we have lost our sense of awe for our family members because we are in such close relationship with them? Could this be one reason why instead of welcoming the upcoming holidays as opportunities to slow down, catch up, and reconnect with loved ones, we often only feel overwhelmed by the impending work of playing host to them? If, before Christmas and New Year’s are upon us, we will ask God to help us see each of our family members and close friends as He sees them, I think we will be better able to embrace our “inner Mary,” or that part of us which, like Mary with Jesus, can just sit down and listen when our guests arrive even if all the details of the event are not in perfect order.
Mary and Martha represent two equally important ingredients of Christian hospitality. Martha beforehand. Mary in the midst. May all of us who are hosting family gatherings over the holidays be blessed with knowing when to call upon our inner Martha and when to send forth our inner Mary.