Most of us can relate to being invited to a wedding, where we dress up and prepare for a big celebration with dinner and fellowship. In a similar way, we are preparing for a most special event in just a few weeks. It’s an invitation from God to draw closer to Him, through Jesus’ birth and coming into the world. The Gospel from Luke 14 is unique, and read annually two weeks before Christmas on the Sunday of the Forefathers of our Christian faith. This parable illustrates both the 1st & 2nd coming of Christ, since He is the servant sent to gather the many. Supper indicates evening, which is the end of the age. The people invited are first the Jews, then all mankind. Jesus came for all of us! And this image represents the many excuses people made because they were too attached to worldly cares to accept the Kingdom of God.
One of the Church Fathers associates these excuses with things pertaining to the 5 senses. While preparing for Christmas, what can distract us from Christ’s birth?
St. Augustine writes about the 2nd excuse, where the person invited says he bought 5 yoke of oxen and needs to inspect them. He understands it this way: “The five yoke of oxen means the five senses of the body. It is through these bodily senses that earthly things are sought for.” This new purchase becomes more important than honoring the acceptance of the banquet invitation, which came directly from God and is entrance into His Kingdom. Just like this man, we can become overwhelmed by new possessions that the claims of worship and of God are crowded out of our lives. We may acquire a new car, boat or cabin in some remote place. Then, we begin to excuse ourselves saying, “We’d love to attend the Divine Liturgy, but…” It can be easy to excuse oneself because of a new game or hobby, or even a new friendship that utterly occupies us and keeps us away from God.
During Christmas, certainly presents can take us away from the great feast of Christ’s Incarnation. How about the Christmas parties, Holiday food, candies and time off from work and school? This Holiday season, and each Holiday, provide us with an occasion to celebrate but also many reasons to think we have more important things to do. We can get so wrapped up and focused on ourselves that we lose sight of Christ. This Sunday is special and remembered annually in our Church with this Gospel reading, as well as honoring the memory of forefathers and foremothers of the Lord who prepared for the coming of the Savior. If we’ve become overwhelmed, that’s ok and understandable. There’s still time to prepare, repent, and be ready for the coming of Christ in just a few weeks!
The parable of the banquet shows us that all are invited. The Master and Host of the banquet is God, and He first invited the Jews as guests, those who throughout history had awaited the day when God would summon them. But when they did not, He sent His Servant to gather those who came forth and welcomed our Lord in a manner the Jews never did: the crippled and blind and lame, and the tax-collectors and sinners. Then, He invited those from the highways and along the hedges, which are the Gentiles, the people outside of Israel like the Greeks and other foreigners. The Servant God sent out was none other than Jesus, who is to compel those invited in order that the Master’s house be filled. And how does Christ compel us? He compels us out o the great love God has for all of us, that He is willing to do everything to save His creation. This compulsion is His unceasing Love for us…
The symbol of the Feast presents us with two ways of understanding: The Heavenly Banquet which awaits all who are summoned and admitted into the Kingdom of God, and The Mystical Supper which is offered to us through Holy Communion. Christ’s followers knew that God’s full coming through the “Messiah” had long been portrayed as a “Feast” for His people at which they would proclaim, “Behold, this is our God for Whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for Whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)
We are coming to the close of the Holy Season of Advent in just a few weeks. In this time of great anticipation and preparation, it is a time when God offers us all the joyful opportunity to become renewed. It is also a time where we are still prone to making excuses! Our Lord and Savior will be born anew within us and we will be “summoned” to follow the star just like the Wisemen, to take our place with the shepherds and animals and to partake of His Mystical Supper. He has invited us, and continues to invite us, but we must want it, acknowledge and accept His invitation. Be mindful of the excuses until the last moment and be ready to respond enthusiastically to our Lord’s invitation to His great feast. There is still time to get ready for the holy joy of His Kingdom, and to make good use of it for our salvation!