Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Dinner

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-92; Revelation 3:20-22

ALL OVER THE WORLD THIS coming Tuesday, people will be celebrating Christmas. They’ll be doing it in different ways in different lands. Some nations put up Christmas trees; others don’t. Some nations have house-to-house processions, bringing greetings or carols. Some nations have singing-making contests and even joke-telling contests. In one place, children expect Santa Claus, in another, they look out for Der Kristkindl or La Befana.

But Christmas celebrations everywhere have one thing in common, and people do it whether they actually believe in Jesus or not: All over the world, people will sit down together for Christmas dinner.

It may be a banquet with the whole clan, or an extra-special meal with just the immediate family. It may be a couple dining together, alone. A solitary person can sit down for Christmas dinner with guests who join him only in memory or spirit. However it is, we all sit down to Christmas dinner. We take it for granted that when we get together on Christmas Day, it should be over a plentiful, good-tasting meal.

Of course, that doesn’t apply only to Christmas. Whenever two or three human beings are gathered together to socialize, we seem to do it over food and drink.

A couple weeks ago, I heard a diet doctor on the radio who questioned that. She said, "Food is only fuel to keep our bodies going! When we get together, it should be enough for us to talk or share some activity! Other animals don’t eat to socialize! Why should we?"

That diet doctor can talk like that, but she’s wasting her breath. And not because people are greedy, or gluttons, or because we don’t know what’s good for us.

No, she’s wasting her breath because God Himself has hard-wired the connection between food, fun, and fellowship into His human creation. It’s not just part of our physical and social make-up, it’s part who we are spiritually.

Because after all, we are human beings. We’re not just physical bodies, some kind of organic machines that need fuel only to keep running. No, we’re people! We’re not just one more species of animal, that only eats to survive-- we’re human beings who can relate to one another and to the Lord who made us. All through Scripture, God commands His people to come together to share the appointed feasts, because they remind us of what and who we are. We’re physical, and spiritual. Not one or the other, but both. We don’t "have" bodies, minds, and spirits; we are bodies, minds, and spirits, all wrapped up into one package. God gives us special meals together to satisfy the needs of all these parts of who we are.

In fact, those needs are why God the eternal Son had to be born on earth as a human being. If we were nothing but bodies, we’d just be animals. We wouldn’t need a Savior, or rather, we couldn’t benefit from one, because whatever we did wrong wouldn’t be sin. Sin requires a creature with a mind and a spirit that can rebel and say Me and Mine and I Will This and I Won’t That.

But if we were only minds and spirits, we wouldn’t need our Savior to take on a physical body and be born among us. There are some false religions that claim that that’s how it is, that Christ only pretended to have a body, and that His mission was to convince us that our bodies are just fakes, too, and our real selves are purely spiritual.

But we are truly physical as well as spiritual, and Jesus Christ really was born of the Virgin Mary, as the Scripture says, and lived among us in human flesh. He ate and drank and had fellowship with us, and by what he did in His body; that is, by His life, death, and resurrection, He accomplished everything His heavenly Father gave Him to do.

What He did, in fact, is make it possible for us to sit down and have Christmas dinner with Him.

I wonder, will you will celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve? If you are, remember that above all, that feast is where He meets with us for food and fellowship. Christ has put His special blessing upon His Holy Communion, and He promises to be present with us in that meal in a way surpassing any other way He meets us on earth.

But every meal we share on earth is an echo of that sacred supper, and of the eternal banquet to come. And we can use the ideal Christmas dinner as a symbol of how it is when we share food and fellowship with our risen Lord. So how would it be to have Christmas dinner with Jesus?

Jesus says in Revelation, chapter 3, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me."

Christmas dinner with Jesus won’t be one of those disrupted meals where the football fans are antsy to go watch the game, and the cooks are lamenting because the meal took two days to prepare and ten minutes to gobble down.

No, it will be an everlasting, continuously joyful feast. Our reading from Isaiah 25 shows us what it will be like when Jesus our Savior dines with us and we dine with Him.

First of all, in verse six the Lord says that He will make a glorious feast for all people. The Lord Himself is the host, He Himself is the cook! We tend to think of Jesus knocking at our hearts’ doors, asking pretty please, can He come in and share our rancid peanut butter on mouldy bread and last week’s dried-out french fries? We think it’s up to us to serve the meal. But this is the risen Lord speaking in Revelation. This is He to whom all power and authority have been given! When Jesus offers to come in and dine with us, He’s got a great big caterer’s truck parked out there by the curb. He wants to bring in a banquet that will make our eyes pop and our mouths water. Isaiah says it will be like drinking the most mellow aged wines and eating the most succulent prime rib.

But the reality will be even better than that, for the food Jesus brings is His very self. It is His body, broken on the cross for us, and His blood, shed to take away our sins. The Christmas dinner Jesus spreads is all the benefits of His being born as a man among us, that is, eternal life and joy and everlasting communion God our Father. You’ve heard it said that heaven will be sitting on clouds playing the harp: Here in Isaiah we taste that heaven is like a continual Christmas dinner!

But Christmas dinners here on earth-- they’re not always about joy and harmony and good fellowship. Just the opposite.

I’ve only just met you. So I’m going to assume that wherever you’re having Christmas dinner, you’ll be glad to see everyone around the table. But you know how it is, the conversations that go on in households all over the world as the holidays come closer. The ones that go like, "Blast it, do we have to go to your mother’s again? She’s an interfering old biddy!" Or, "I hate having to go home for Christmas! My dad bullies me and whatever I do is never good enough." Or, "Son, I don’t care if you think you love her! You are not bringing that little tramp to sit down at our table!" You can be physically present with those you should love, but your fellowship is broken by anger, envy, abuse, strife, and every kind of sin.

But what if the unhappiness at Christmas dinner comes from another cause? What if you don’t feel like eating, let alone socializing, because someone very dear to you has recently died, or is suffering in the hospital, or is away fighting in Iraq? What if you can say, "The Psalmist was right. My tears have been my food day and night, and I just don’t feel like eating turkey and pretending everything’s ok!"?

Then for you Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He not only brings the banquet, He brings the medicine and healing that will enable you to enjoy it. Verse 7 says the Lord will destroy the covering or shroud or veil that covers all people. In our modern parlance we might say He will remove every wet blanket from the party. Not the people we call wet blankets, but every cause of depression and misery, every effect of sin and the death that comes from sin, every negative thing that could keep the Lord’s guests from enjoying the feast He has prepared.

Verse 8 goes on to say that He will swallow up Death forever. Think of that! While we’re swallowing down the Christmas feast of His life, Jesus is consuming the bitter meal of our death. But where His life in us means more and more life, our death in Him means death will be gone forever.

And at this promised feast, the Lord will take away the rebuke and disgrace of His people.

For our sins do deserve His rebuke. We have disgraced ourselves before Him and His holy angels, and we are not worthy to sit and eat in His presence. But our Savior Jesus Christ took our rebuke and disgrace when He hung on the cross. He paid the penalty we deserved for our sins, and made a laughingstock of any creature, human or demon, who would try to hold them against us. By His death and resurrection He has made us worthy to share in the banquet He brings.

In this life we have to go on dealing with the effects of the covering shroud, of death that stalks us and those we love. We have to live with the repercussions of the wickedness we ourselves have done. But we don’t have to be defeated by them. I’m not saying, Try real hard and live the victorious life. No. The Scripture says, trust the victory Jesus has already won. Sit and eat of the provision that He has already made. Rely on Him to give you Himself for food and drink, when you’re starving for hope or despairing over something you have done. He was born for you, He died for you, He has risen for you. Feed on Him, and be at peace.

Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me." We tend to think He’s talking to unbelievers who need to be saved. But no, He’s talking to Christians who think they have it all together, to Christians who think they can provide themselves everything they need by their own money and their own efforts. The Christians in Laodicea thought they could feed and clothe and doctor themselves by themselves. We fall into the same trap when we think it’s up to us to make Christmas happen by the presents we buy or the tasks that get crossed off our lists.

Oh, no, brothers and sisters. Christmas will come even if you get nothing done at all. The great Christmas dinner will be spread even if no one touches a pot or a pan. For it is Christ who spreads the Christmas feast. God was born as a Man at Bethlehem to eat and drink and have fellowship with us awhile on this earth, so we might have eternal communion and fellowship with Him when all things are made new. He has provided everything we need, and He dearly desires to come in and feed us with the bread and wine of His body and blood and refresh us with the water of His word.

So since we’re His guests, what should we do? Should we get up and ask our Lord if we can help Him in the kitchen? As you live your daily life, should you work really hard to earn or deserve the Christmas dinner of His salvation? No! You can’t add anything to what Jesus achieved for you on His cross. You have only one thing to do: Sit at His banquet table and enjoy what He has provided for you. Accept the redemption He has bought you by His blood. And be grateful with joyful praise. With all His redeemed people say, "This is our God, we trusted in Him and He saved us! Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation!"

Christmas dinners in this age often can be disappointing. But Jesus our Lord has provided a Christmas feast that will give us eternal satisfaction, communion, and joy. We’ll know that joy perfectly in the life of the world to come. But we can get a taste of it here as we feed on Jesus and what He has done for us. He stands at the door and knocks! How shall we invite Him in?

With trust and humility; with hungry hearts and grateful love. How shall we receive Him? Through His Spirit and His Word, through His holy Supper, Christian fellowship, and prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, come and feed us
Come, Lord Jesus, and with us dine.
We starve for your presence,
We thirst for your Spirit.
Come as a Child, born in humility,
Come as a Man, strong in obedience,
Come as a Sacrifice, removing our sins,
Come as the Victor, swallowing death and Hell.
Come, Lord Jesus, set the table, prepare the meat and wine:
For you alone can spread the banquet,
On you alone can we truly feed,
You are, alone, our Christmas feast.

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