A favorite Christmas-oriented story that I have shared in sermons over the years (and surely have written somewhere else in our hundreds of devotionals on this site) is one that I was told by a seminary professor friend. He was also an elder in the Dallas church where I was minister of music, and he shared this story in one of my Christmas productions where I asked him to speak.
Dr. Harold Hoehner was a graduate / Ph.D. student at Cambridge University in England about four decades ago. You may recall that Prince Charles (in fashion uncustomary for British royalty) went to Cambridge. My friend was a resident student at the time that Charles was to arrive to begin his studies. His arrival was a big deal and much anticipated in the city. People lined the streets to greet the future king.
At the appointed time, several black limousines were seen coming into the edge of town from the direction of London, and the crowds followed these official-looking vehicles. But Harold and his friends happened to notice a black VW following at a distance that turned down a different street. And for some reason they surmised that perhaps the official vehicles were a feint and that maybe the prince was in the smaller car. Acting on the hunch, they crossed some fields and followed the VW and were indeed among only a handful of people to personally greet the future king on his arrival.
The incarnation of the king of kings was not in a fashion of grandeur that might be expected, and only a handful of people knew of the actual place of his arrival and were there to greet him. It was a group of humble people in the most humble of places.
As we shared in our second theme this past Sunday, as well as in yesterday’s devotional, there is a pattern of Christ coming to and choosing those who are — as the Christmas hymn puts it — “meek souls who receive him still.” And that is good news for us in the Tri-State area, people who are far from grandeur and fame. But we can know Christ; we can be adopted by faith into the royal family of royal families … of the king of kings and lord of lords.
Think upon these thoughts as you today read these two accounts from Luke 14. This first is an exhortation from Jesus to be humble and prefer others, leading Christ to utter the phrase used multiple times in the gospel accounts … that the first shall be the last, and the last shall be the first. So be a servant of those most in need.
The second account, a parable, speaks to the timeless reality that the vast majority of mankind do not make room for Christ or the values of eternity. Rather, they are busy with all sorts of personal pursuits that turn their values upside down. It is generally not the up-and-outers of society who find eternal relationship with Christ, but rather it is those who by circumstance are most estranged from prominence and privilege … carpenters, shepherds, ordinary people beyond the suburbs of Washington, etc. People like you and me.
14:1 — One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The Parable of the Great Banquet
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”