Note from Pam: Sharon sent me her Christmas Eve sermon for preaching class at seminary. The story moved me so that I asked if we could post it here. She reluctantly agreed and wanted you all to know that the inspiration for it came from Luanne Panarotti. After reading Sharon’s sermon my assistant, Kirsty Hughan of The Good Taste Guide and I almost drove up to New Haven to make a beautiful table with her Ikea china, mismatched silverware and greens from around her apartment. Instead, we recreated a table here based on what the average person might have around. We bought nothing. Here’s proof you don’t need a glue gun, epsom salt, and spray paint to make a welcoming holiday table.
I love nothing more than talking about food during the holidays.
At no other time of year is it perfectly acceptable
not only to plan meals weeks in advance
and obsess over flavor combinations, first courses, desserts, and wine pairings,
but it’s also considered totally normal to start thinking about the next meal
…during the current one.
While eating a warm cinnamon-raisin scone,
you can wonder aloud without fear of judgment:
“After we go ice-skating, wouldn’t it be awesome
to make grilled cheeses with that incredible sharp cheddar,
and dip them in some of that curried tomato soup Mom makes?”
In short, I wait all year for what I do every day to be socially acceptable.
I look forward to cooking for people,
I look forward to thinking about cooking for people.
And sitting down to eat with loved ones, well…that feels like icing on the cake!
But I have to admit—
as much as I love cooking, eating, and socializing,
I dread setting the table for holiday company.
I am probably the least crafty person on the face of the planet. Really.
Glue guns and I have never gotten a long,
(I have a few scars to prove it!)
and don’t even get me started on twine, stencils, or sponge-paint!
At this point, I really should know better
than to look at Martha Stewart magazines.
They usually just depress me.
But I couldn’t resist as I was waiting in the grocery check-out line the other day.
Promises of quick, easy, step-by-step instructions
made me think for a split second that the
warm, inviting, shabby-chic, yet perfectly-executed tablescape on the cover
was something that I, too, could create for my guests!
After hurrying through the pages
to find the “easy-to-follow, step-by-step” directions,
I came to a set of pictures that I think were meant to be instructional,
but looked more like photos of magic tricks
being performed with jars and ribbon.
Neatly lettered next to the photos
was a list of things I needed for my holiday table
which included, among other things:
Large mason jars
Three kinds of ribbon
An ice-blue tablecloth
A lace runner
And cabbage roses
There was even a cute, color-coded timeline with helpful suggestions like:
Cruise through your favorite antique stores to find charming, mismatched china”
This “tablescape” was even MORE impossible than I ever could have imagined.
And there in the grocery store, I had a kind of epiphany.
I was never going to be able to pull off this magnificent design feat
because Martha and her decorating minions
are just not working with the same stuff as I am.
I’d like to see them create a festive wintry tablescape for 17
with my Ikea dining table, plain white dishes,
mismatched silverware, which is neither charming nor vintage,
and the only tablecloth I have—which has wax drips
and holes burned in it from the time I thought sparklers
would make really cool candles in my best friend’s birthday cake.
Martha and her people have warehouses full of china, silver, and vases.
And they have napkins, runners, placemats, and bows in every color of the rainbow—
washed, ironed, folded and just waiting to be pressed into duty.
They are simply not working with the same stuff as I am.
They’ve got way better stuff.
The miracle of Christmas, though,
the reason we celebrate is—
that God loved us so deeply, so tenderly,
that God came to us,
using exactly the same stuff we have.
God, in all God’s glory, chose to be with us—
Using our hands that break bread, wash dishes, and reach out to touch things.
Wearing our skin that is warm and soft,
that bleeds when it’s cut, and forms scars when it heals.
Looking through our eyes that twinkle and smile,
that see wonders and horror, and that cry when it’s all just too much.
Living with our heart that loves so powerfully that it feels like it can burst,
but is also so vulnerable to breaking.
God came to walk with us—
living in our towns, wearing our clothes, eating our food—
so that God could teach us,
using our language,
that “Emmanuel” truly does mean God with us.
God came to be profoundly with us—once and for all,
so that we would have never have to wonder if we are loved.
Not for a split second.
The God who loves us, is the God who took on our ordinary stuff,
and made something splendidly beautiful out of it.
God wanted us to know
in our hands, in our skin, in our eyes, in our hearts, in our bones
that God so loved the world, that God became human in Jesus Christ
on a dark night 2 millennia ago,
and every day.
If that’s not a miracle, then I don’t know what is.
Kirsty @GoodTasteGuide says
Sharon I had so much fun reading your sermon and then pulling together the table with Pam. It’s true! You don’t need anything but what’s lying around to make a beautiful, elegant, “shabby-chic” table setting.
Hope you have a lovely Christmas as a newlywed.
Sharon, this is one of the most incredible pieces I’ve ever seen from you. Thank you for this. Thank you for giving us permission to just keep it simple. Thank you for the reminder of what’s really important. Man, you really got Dad’s writing gene.
Cathy H. says
Wonderful words of inspiration, and perfectly timed for those of us who are rushing about like mad to make everything beautiful. I think we might just need to adjust our expectations. There is beauty in simplicity and in being present to one another. I appreciate your whole family for your contributions of food, words, and spirit. Merry Christmas!
Emily ~SoDomesticated~ says
Beautiful post to help remind us what Christmas is really all about. Merry Christmas!
I love everything about this post . Love, love, love.
SMITH BITES says
beautiful Sharon . . . and if it helps, just know that glue guns and i don’t get along either . . . and i don’t have a ‘craft room’ . . . yes, the allure of all that shiny, glittery ‘stuff’ is just that . . . stuff. but what you’ve so eloquently written here is that this season isn’t about the ‘stuff’ . . . unless that ‘stuff’ is friends and family, spending time with them, cooking for and with them, sharing the spirit of the season . . . in other words, being the hands and feet of Christ. The happiest of Christmases to the entire clan of Three Many Cooks – you women really, truly, have changed my life . . .
Wonderful – thank you. Merry Christmas!
This is really a beautiful sermon. I’m Jewish and although some of our beliefs are different I was very moved by your sermon. You also explained something about Christianity about which I had been wondering and none of my friends were able to explain so that I understood it. You are going to make a wonderful minister.
Terri A. says
I’m bookmarking this to read and re-read. What a great message!
This is a wonderful commentary for Christmas or anytime of the year.
Thank you for posting it and Merry Christmas to all you cooks out there!
Magali Ruiz says
Wow! I am blown away. What a beautiful message! Thank you for sharing.
Sharon, I love how you united the day-to-day with the profoundly spiritual.
I echo Ilana’s thoughts, and found your sermon funny, healing, illuminating, and deeply moving.
Thank you for sharing the gift of Christmas with me.
Your sermon brought tears to my eyes. Very beautiful!
Thank you for the beautiful Christmas sermon. It is precisely what I needed to hear. Have a lovely holiday.
Thank you — for what it’s worth I believe that you are truely pursuing your calling! God bless you in what ever you decide to do!
Love reading this. Thanks (from another minister’s daughter).