“And she had a sister called Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” Luke 10:39 ESV
I brushed away a stray wisp of hair that had fallen out of my ponytail as I fried the last of the calamari, handed the cans of clams to my daughter to open, and started boiling water for the angel hair. I was so excited! I was determined to make this, my mother’s last Christmas Eve, the best possible.
Mom had been a part of our Christmas Eve celebrations going way back. In the early years when my children were young and she was a new widow, we used to attend her five-o-clock Christmas Eve service at her church, a service which catered to young children. Then we would go to the shopping center across the street and dine at the buffet. We would meet my sister there with her kids and grandkids. The adults would sit around and chat for hours, and the cousins would hang out together and sneak over to the dessert table multiple times.
When the kids had outgrown the children’s service, I decided to start our own tradition. My husband is Italian and has fond memories of seafood feasts on Christmas Eve, so I decided to begin the custom myself.
In the early years, I would fry all the food at home, but I soon realized that the prices were so inflated before Christmas that it didn’t cost any more to do a take-out. From then on, I would cook a few items myself, and order a take-out for the rest.
My mother often joined our feasts, unless she was visiting with one of her other children. After she gave up driving, I would send one of the kids to pick her up.
This year was special. In August Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, and the doctor told us that she wasn’t expected to make it to Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas. Though Mom was slowing down, she was still managing surprisingly well. As Christmas approached, I was eager with anticipation. I was determined to have my mother over for one last Christmas Eve seafood feast.
I was feeling optimistic about how everything was falling into place. I had called my mother in the morning, and she said she was planning to come.
The food was almost done, and the table was carefully set with pink and blue floral China, flatware made of real silver engraved with an “L,” and Fostoria crystal goblets, all heirlooms of my mother’s. A gingerbread house made by my daughter served as the centerpiece.
I was about to hand my daughter the keys to the car so she could go pick up Grandma when the phone rang. My daughter handed me the phone and took over at the stove.
“Hello, Nancy?” It was my mother speaking in a soft, shaky voice. “I am so sorry to disappoint you, but I am just not feeling up to coming to dinner.”
“Of course, Mom, I understand,” I said trying not to reveal my disappointment. “I’ll come over after we eat and bring you dinner and your gifts.”
My son arrived a few minutes later with the take-out. As we sat down at the table and my husband said grace, a tear trickled down my cheek. I was so grateful for my family sitting around the table—my husband, my son, my two daughters, and my daughter’s boyfriend, but I was keenly aware of the empty chair to my right.
When we finished eating, I packed up a special dinner for my mother – grilled haddock, shrimp, scallops, and angel hair with clam sauce, all gluten-free, of course. Then I grabbed her bag of gifts.
I said good-bye to my family and told them we would serve dessert when I got back.
On the half-hour drive to my mother’s apartment, I had time to think. I thought about what Mom had said on the phone. She hadn’t said she was disappointed that she couldn’t come. She said she was worried about disappointing me. That is when it hit me that my big idea of bringing my mother over for one last perfect Christmas Eve seafood feast was all about me and not about her. Even on one of her better days, it would have been tiring for her.
It made me think about a Bible story that is not usually associated with Christmas—the story of Mary and Martha. While Martha was rushing around putting together a meal and complaining that her sister wasn’t helping, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet hanging on his every word.
My mother didn’t need me to be her daughter, Martha, scurrying around trying to create the ideal occasion. What she needed was her daughter, Mary, to slow down and simply sit with her.
And what about Jesus? I had to admit that I hadn't taken the time to sit at the feet of Jesus. I now realized what an honor it was to welcome the birth of the Christ child – the Savior of the world—one last time with my mother before she would meet Jesus face to face.
When I walked into her apartment, Mom was dozing on her recliner. I tip-toed into her kitchen and filled the tea kettle, and I made a small plate of food and set it down on the table beside her. Then I picked her Bible up off the end table and sat down next to her, sliding my hand into hers. Her eyelids fluttered, then she opened her eyes with recognition. “Why, Nancy, you’re here,” she said as her face lit up with a smile. “You didn’t have to come.”
I gave her hand a squeeze. “There is nowhere else I would rather be,” I said.
Two years have passed since that Christmas, and I am in the midst of more changes, as I know many of you are. Perhaps you have an empty chair at your table. Or maybe you are struggling with illness. Are you separated from your loved ones because of quarantining, work schedules, or distance?
Once again, I feel drawn to the story of Mary and Martha, and I invite you to join me.
“Come sit at my feet,” Jesus beckons.
Sitting with Jesus renews my perspective. My temptation to again turn into Martha melts, and a spark of hope ignites my soul. I embrace the changes Christmas 2021 brings for my family, and I joyfully anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus in this new season.
I pray you will also be blessed at the feet of Jesus.
Merry Christmas to you and your family!
*Background image by Jeff Jacobs with Pixabay