I have recently watched the movie The Butler, which chronicles the life of Mr. Cecil Gaines in the White House for serving for eight U.S. Presidents. The turning point in my opinion of the film occurred when Mr. Gaines, after over 30 years of service was the invited guest of President Ronald and Nancy Reagan to a state dinner. Although, he was most deserving, it seems that he was most uncomfortable even in a time of recognition to be on the "other side of the tray."
Reka Nagy recalls the time when she was waiting tables and had a tray full of drinks, and then had the misfortune of crashing into her manager, causing them both to tumble to the floor.
Nagy, however, while falling, managed to keep the drink tray she was carrying horizontal, so that even as she lay on the floor, not a drop was spilled, not a glass was broken.
It was such a spectacular performance that the customers, far from chuckling at her clumsiness, instead gave her a rousing cheer and round of applause!
Unfortunately, such responses are rare.
Waitresses. They're hauling heavy trays. Crashing into co-workers. Being poked and grabbed and yelled at. Having to smile and be nice to rude customers. Receiving lousy tips. It can be a brutal way to make a buck.
An honorable profession to be sure, and some wait staff make good money. But most work hard for their money with not much more than bruises and bunions to show for the effort.
Suzy Hansen, who has studied the restaurant business, argues that you could say that the world is divided into two kinds of people: those on the customer side of the tray and those on the waitress side of the tray.
On the customer side are the proud and the powerful; on the waitress side are the humble and the harassed. Far too many customers assume that waitresses are low-class women without skills, beneath conversation and consideration. Too often, they are snubbed, underpaid and ignored.
Welcome to life on the other side of the tray.
It's the other side with which Mary, the mother of Jesus, was all too familiar. Along with other women of first-century Galilee, Mary was a second-class citizen, deemed not worthy of conversation or consideration. She had little or no authority, virtually no rank or status in her culture.
No, this is not to suggest that the waitress at your preferred diner is a second-class citizen. It is rather to put her in the same company as Mary who saw herself as a "servant of the Lord" (1:38). A servant, one who was waiting upon the Lord.
Alison Owings, author of the book Hey, Waitress! observes that waitresses "watch, witness or are part of every upheaval, uproar, tradition, trend, debate and issue." You might even say that everything that happens in the world happens on a waitress's shift -- think business meetings, political conventions, wedding receptions, even protest movements. One of the first skirmishes in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s occurred at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, when black students defied the practices of the day by bravely sitting down and ordering a piece of apple pie.
Waitresses. From the other side of the tray, they have witnessed historical events and human conflicts, and through times of chaos and confusion have tried to remain good and faithful servants.
Just like Mary.
When Mary races over to the house of her relative Elizabeth, she discovers that her encounter with the angel was no mere fantasy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries to Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (v. 42). Elizabeth describes Mary as "the mother of my Lord" (v. 43), both an affirmation and confirmation of what the angel had told Mary.
In this passage, Elizabeth is a huge help to Mary, giving support, offering encouragement and sharing a sense of overflowing joy. Throughout the gospel of Luke, joy emerges again and again, with the Christmas angels bringing good tidings of great joy (2:10),
The theme that we must embrace from this narrative is that we will be on the other side of the tray when we exemplify the ideals of service.
The challenge that we in this Christmas season is to be reminded that authentic Christian living requires a sense of service; it will inevitably -- if done right -- put us on the other side of the tray, serving people, waiting on others, ministering to the needy, lifting up the fallen.
The response of an ordinary teenager named Mary should be our marker of service: God has "filled the hungry with good things," says Mary. It's a fascinating line that suggests the image of God as Waiter, feeding those who are hungry and clearing the table of those who are already full. If you are in need, God will help you... he'll be with you in a minute... but if you are self-reliant and proud and powerful, you aren't going to receive any service from the Lord.
And there is the key to Christmas joy. The little-known secret of Christmas is that our joy is full when we study and learn from Mary as servant, God as servant, Jesus as servant, and become servants ourselves.
When we do, our joy will be full.