PREPARATIONS FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER STARTED IN AUGUST. ANDREA Bernoth, an Australian student missionary teaching English in Moscow, felt homesick and wanted to make sure that Christmas would be memorable.
Work on the guest list also started in August. Andrea and I decided to limit the list to 14 church friends who celebrate Christmas on December 25. Most Russians observe Christmas on January 7, as prescribed by the old Julian calendar. We fired off invitations by e-mail and Facebook: dinner at 6:00 p.m. on December 25 in my apartment. All the guests accepted months in advance.
Andrea started cooking the day before the dinner. She whipped up a feast: nachos with guacamole sauce, sweet potato patties with a sour cream-sweet chili dipping sauce, pumpkin soup, pumpkin-and-feta-cheese-stuffed pastries, pesto pasta salad, mashed potatoes, garlic bread, and lasagna stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese. For dessert: shortbread, two kinds of truffles, and creamy fruit-filled cake. Dinner was ready by 5:00 p.m., and Andrea and I sat down in the living room to wait for the guests.
Then the phone rang. It was Frank, a student from Zambia. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “but my friend and I can’t make it because we are tired and need to get some sleep.”
Minutes slowly passed. Andrea began to wonder why no one was arriving. She felt feverish. Maybe nobody would come. About 15 minutes before 6:00, Andrea started to call the guests.
Yemurai from Zimbabwe said she couldn’t make it because she had been invited to visit another church family. Jemima from Ghana said she and her two friends didn’t feel well. Nakena and ?Geoffrey, two more African students, said they were just leaving the church, an hour’s drive from my apartment, because they had decided to pick up bags of donated food to distribute to needy foreign students in their dormitory. “But you knew months ago that the party would start at 6:00,” Andrea wailed into the phone. As the clock struck 6:00 Andrea and I looked at each other. We were the only people present for Christmas dinner. We wondered what to do with all the food. We wanted someone—anyone—to enjoy it. Our thoughts turned to our uninvited Russian friends, the ones who celebrate Christmas on the “wrong” day.
We picked up our cell phones.
Olga expressed surprise at the last-minute phone call, but promised to arrive in an hour with our pastor’s 9-year-old daughter, whom she was babysitting. Lyuda squealed with delight at the call and immediately jumped into a taxi with her 12-year-old nephew and Sveta, a neighbor.
By 7:00 the Russian guests starting trickling in. No one complained about being excluded from the initial guest list. The women comforted Andrea over the no-shows. Everyone voiced joy about celebrating Christmas on December 25 for the first time. Christmas dinner was saved.
While Andrea and I waited for the Russian guests to arrive, we opened our Bibles to read a new Christmas story: Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:16-24. With amazement, we realized that we had just lived out a real-life version of the parable.
This Christmas season Jesus invites us to a banquet. The dinner cost Jesus everything to prepare. It will take place whether we attend or not. Some of us are already offering excuses, and Jesus is saying to His angels, “Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet” (Matt. 14:23, 24, NLT).*
If we skip the banquet, our places will be filled by others—even people who have never before celebrated on the “right” day.
The great banquet is nearly ready to be served. As we enter 2011 let’s not only accept Jesus’ invitation but actually commit to showing up.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published December 9, 2010.