Recently a Facebook friend posted this photo on his wall that caught my attention. It was a photo of a long table set out beautifully. The plates are laid out perfectly, the glasses are delicate, the table is decorated with some Christmas baubles and native plants. What caught my attention, however, is that this long table is set up on a footpath on a street in a neighbourhood.
I felt a slight sense of hope rise up in me as I saw that picture.
This Christmas season I have been feeling grim about the state of our world. We are constantly bombarded with bad news that things are getting worse regarding the environment and that our lifestyle is unsustainable. Human beings are contributing to the devastation of our world, species are going extinct, and our greed, exploitation and lack of good stewardship of this world are causing our planet to heave with pain and exhaustion.
Christmas is normally a time of joy and a season where Christians believe that the hope come through God made flesh can ultimately override any sense of despair.
However, even that hope can seem very dim in our dark times today.
So when I saw that photo of the table laid out in the neighbourhood street so beautifully I felt a sliver of longing emerge through the gloom for a moment.
I love the sense of expectation that the open table creates. There is a sense that something good is coming. It is a gesture of welcome. Rather than huddling indoors where only certain people can join the feast of food that is to come, it is boldly proclaiming that anyone from the street is welcome to come and sit at this table. It reminds me of the parable of the great banquet that we read about in Matthew 22:1-14, where many were invited to a feast but did not come, so the host invited all who were on the street corners and laneways, anyone they could find out on the streets, to take their seats at the party.
I love that these kinds of small acts of hospitality are practices that can change our world and bring transformation. In a time when we are experiencing the negative impacts of polarisation, exclusivity and echo chambers, this act sings of inclusion. In a season when there is prevailing despair, this brings a sense of the expectation of good. And in a time when most of us feel helpless to cause real change, this small offering has the potential to build peace in our neighbourhood which ultimately brings about a better world.
In Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire demanding Justice, authors Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh say:
It is our small acts of carelessness or of care and restraint, that will bring either hurt or healing to our economy. While we need to be involved in the big movements of radical structural change, that activism needs to be grounded (literally) in “small fidelities, skills and desires,” small but significant shifts in our daily habits that will help us to embrace and nourish a healing habitus for habitation, an ecology and economics for homemaking.
If this world is increasingly no longer feeling like our home, we need to engage in small, faithful yet deeply radical practices such as preparing open neighbourhood tables on our streets to practice homemaking once again.
And we must lament over a world that is losing its sense of home, but that lament must never topple over into depression. Walsh and Keesmaat say:
Lament must be an act of hope, an act of passionate expectation. While depression leaves us stuck in the brokenness of the present, lament entails a vision of life that calls us forward. …You see, lament is always asking “How long?” because lament is voiced in defiant hope of a restored world.
That is my hope this Christmastime when the light of God can seem very dim.
I hope in a restored world. And today, that “defiant hope” propels me to work with God daily in small ways, never giving up until this world is our home again.