The Feast is for Honor
We have seen that the Feast of Christmas is for healing, for humility, and for hospitality. Today we finish by recognizing that the feast is for honor – particularly, it is for both showing honor to God, and also grasping that God honors all those who honor His invitation by welcoming them to His ultimate feast in the coming kingdom.
The Lord of hosts has indeed prepared a feast to which all people are invited, as the prophet Isaiah foretold it long ago:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
In the feast passage which we read today from Luke 14.15-24, Jesus describes who these “all peoples” are – three kinds of people who are invited to supper with the Lamb: the in crowd, the out crowd and the way out crowd.
The In Crowd
These are the conceited and smug religious folks who refuse to honor the master. They should not be surprised when the master will refuse to honor them, but they probably will be.
Of course, in the context of Jesus’ day, this warning was spoken to the Israelites who demanded that God give honor to them when they had no intention of giving honor to Him.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
The apostles also came to see that the in-crowd had self-selected themselves out of obedience, and therefore out of their high position of honor:
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
The conceited are offered a full invitation, and feel special because they were invited. But they ultimately reject the invitation – and therefore the Master of the feast – by refusing to show up when the time arrives. They are too busy with land and materialism and legacy – the mere cares and concerns of the world.
Lest we be so short-sighted as to think Jesus was talking only to the Pharisees of His day, we might just as well apply this stern proclamation and warning to the church in our day. We must beware of the conceit that imagines God will excuse our absence from the narrow road of obedience.
The invitees are those ever-present skin-deep religious types who relish the idea of being honored by God, but have no intention of honoring Him in return. They want a God who will serve their needs, but they offer Him nothing in return. These are the people who call out to Jesus as Savior, but never as Lord.
They have no room for Jesus in their good Christian lives.
The Out Crowd
Then Jesus says the Master of the feast, angered by the in-crowd’s refusal to honor His invitation, offers His hospitality to those who are out in the streets and lanes of the city, those who are part of the community but live off on the margins. The lame, the blind, the poor and the disabled are how Jesus describes them. These are the children of God that most of us prefer to ignore, and prefer not to invite to our tables. Yet Jesus invites them to rest on his bosom. These are society’s cast-offs who honor the master by answering His invitation. These are those among us who are outsiders, cast-offs, and misfits who have always dwelt on the edges. The people most of us never notice, much less invite, are the ones the master invites cheerfully and wholeheartedly as most-honored guests.
The master will honor them with full belonging at His table. Paul wrote well of these misfits when he said:
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen"
(1 Corinthians 1.26-28a, KJV)
The Way Out Crowd
Finally, as usual, Jesus takes compassion and mercy further than we ever could, and declares that the Master of the feast extended His invitation far beyond the walls of the city and out into the country lanes and hedges.
People usually sleep in hedges for a reason. They are sometimes criminal, and can be dangerous. But all of them are deeply broken, either of their own accord or because of atrocities wrought upon them. Some are mentally ill. Others are fugitives. Either way, the city has no room for them, and they must dwell outside its protection. These represent the cut-offs – the hopeless who will hopefully discover that God has been searching for them. The master will honor anyone who will honor His invitation, and that includes those who are so far from Him that they are rightly called “the people who walk in the darkness.” These indeed are going to behold a great light. For the master of the feast know no boundaries or walls, is not fearful of those who live in hedges, nor is He afraid or overwhelmed by any of the reasons in their past that have led them to dwell there. The invitation to the feast is extended to the uttermost parts of the earth, and to those who have been written off as hopeless cases by the rest of the world. To these, the master says, “Come.”
“For the Son of Man came to save the lost.”
Dressing for the Occasion
In Luke’s version of today’s reading, the guests honor God by simply showing up to the feast when they are invited. But in Matthew’s account, Jesus requires just a little more from His guests. He expects them to dress for the occasion. Listen to Matthew’s poslogue:
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The invitation of God is generous, but it requires a response. Not only must we show up for the feast, but we must dress for the occasion. No, I am not talking about physical clothing, for God doesn’t look at outward appearances. This robe we are to wear is what the scriptures call “the robe of righteousness” (see Job 29:14, Revelation 19:8, Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 59:17, Isaiah 11:5, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 132:9, Zechariah 3:4, Revelation 3:4)
What is the robe of righteousness? It is a special robe of purest white linen given free of charge to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are made pure by the atoning blood of the Lamb. But more than that, it is also the robe we weave as we walk through life with the aim of honoring God at every step. Righteousness is a garment woven with vertical threads of being good, and horizontal threads of doing good to our fellow man. As we give our hearts to God and our hands to men,God grace takes our obedience and weaves the garment of righteousness. And although we are not able on our own to be completely good or do good all the time, even our imperfect threads are washed whiter than snow by God's grace, brought to perfection by the Master of the feast. He honors us by making us clean, we must honor Him by loving both God (vertical threads) and neighbor (horizintal threads) in word and deed.
How will we Honor the Master of the Christmas Feast?
Many are called to the feast, but only a few will attend. Jesus has extended the invitation to you, and me, and to all who are in earshot of His servants. And yet, as the servant said, "there is still room!"
Will we invite and welcome the poor and the lame and the blind and the disabled? Will we invite those who sleep along the highways and in the hedges? Our master has, so must we.
I send you out today, on your way to your Christmas feast, with a reminder from Mary, the cast-off who gave birth to the Savior of the world.
This is her song from Luke 1, in which she reminds us that the conceited who are high and mighty cast themselves off from honor when they refuse to honor God, and that cast-offs and cut-offs are lifted high when they honor God.
“And Mary said,
‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.’”
(Mary’s Song, the Magnificat: Luke 1.46-55, KJV)
Merry Christmas! Gloria in excelsis Deo!