Preparing for Advent: The Ideal Thanksgiving

By Emily Bingham

Advent Devotional | November 26, 2019

What does the ideal Thanksgiving look like?

A table dressed in perfectly pressed white linens and piled high with casseroles? The patriarch expertly carving a turkey large enough to feed the entire neighborhood? A dessert table groaning under the weight of pumpkin roll and latticed pies?

How about a bunch of college students sitting on a dorm room floor, eating turkey nuggets shaped like dinosaurs—and smiley face potatoes on the side?

In November of 2011, I was studying abroad in Scotland and, for the most part, having way too much fun to bother with homesickness. But as Thanksgiving grew nearer and not a soul around me seemed to notice, I felt a twinge of longing for home, for family, for belonging.

A small band of American expatriates soon coalesced in the dorm, and we began to formulate plans for a Thanksgiving adventure to assuage our nostalgia.

One of us found out about a restaurant in Ireland that served a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. That sounded exciting! But taking a flight across the Irish Sea just to eat dinner seemed a bit extravagant—not to mention well beyond the range of our student budgets.

Someone suggested that, instead, we take the train to Plymouth, England, and spend our holiday paying homage to the Pilgrims who set sail from that place. But an English friend assured us that Plymouth should absolutely be moved to the bottom of our British bucket lists.

So it was decided: we would have to celebrate Thanksgiving right there in University Hall. And celebrate we did!

On the fourth Thursday in November, an unlikely mix of Brits and Americans gathered in our British host’s dorm room at the appointed time.

Each of us came bearing our assigned traditional Thanksgiving dish—or at least with the best we could do. (As it turns out, grocery stores in small-town Scotland don’t carry canned pumpkin or whole turkeys. And potatoes are really hard to mash when you don’t have access to a kitchen.)

In spite of these limitations, this was hands down the best Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had.

As we sat in a circle on the floor, sandwiched between two twin beds, partaking in the strangest potluck ever assembled, we laughed and we cried, and I experienced the joy of the Lord in a way I never had before.
And as we took turns answering the clichéd What are you thankful for? question, I was so genuinely full of gratitude, I thought my heart might actually burst. Why?

Because God’s kindness had been made real and tangible—incarnated, if you will—in that experience of mutual hospitality.

Real hospitality isn’t about performance. It’s not for show. It’s not about a picture-perfect table setting or how good you are at throwing a dinner party. Biblical hospitality, philoxenia in the New Testament, has been foundational to the life and ministry of the Church from its very beginning, because it reflects the character of the Triune God who invites us into His very life.

Hospitality is the beautiful movement in which the stranger, the foreigner, the outsider—even the enemy—is welcomed into loving community.

That’s what I experienced during Thanksgiving 2011. A stranger in a strange land, my new friends shared more than a meal with me; they shared their lives.

Since then, I’ve become convinced that this movement from stranger to beloved friend is at the heart of the story of Scripture. The Gospel is a story of divine, cosmic hospitality in which we are the guest, God is the host, and the Incarnation is the climax of it all.

Meet me back in your inbox this Sunday, on the first day of Advent, and we’ll talk more about how Jesus changes everything.

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with family in the United States this year. But a small part of me will be homesick for a Scottish dorm room floor.

—Emily Bingham, CCO Midwest Staff Director