Saying YES to the Heavenly Feast

A few years ago Tony Campolo, a sociologist and professor from Eastern University, flew to Hawaii to speak at a conference. The way he tells the story, he checks into his hotel and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, his internal clock wakes him at 3:00 a.m. The night is dark, the streets are silent, the world is asleep, but Tony is wide awake and his stomach is growling.

He gets up and prowls the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything is closed except for a grungy dive in a back alley. He goes in and sits down at the counter. Some heavy-set guy behind the counter comes over and asks, "What d'ya want?"

Tony eyes some donuts under a plastic cover and says, "I'll have a donut and black coffee."

As he sits there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30, in walk eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes just finished with their night's work. They plop down at the counter and Tony finds himself uncomfortably surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing women. He gulps his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway. Then the woman next to him says to her friend, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be 39." To which her friend nastily replies, "So what d'ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?"

The first woman says, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

Well, when Tony Campolo heard that, his heart turned. He sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the big guy behind the counter, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"The one right next to me," he asked, "she comes in every night?"

"Yeah," he said, "that's Agnes. Yeah, she's here every night. She's been comin' here for years. Why do you want to know?"

"Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?"

A cute kind of smile crept over the chubby man’s cheeks. "That's a great idea!" he says, "yeah, that's great. I like it." He turns to the kitchen and shouts to his wife, "Hey, come on out here. This guy's got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes' birthday and he wants to throw a birthday party for her right here."

His wife comes out almost crying. "That's terrific," she says. "You know, Agnes is really a kind-hearted woman. She's always trying to help other people and nobody does anything nice for her."

So they make their plans. Tony says he'll be back at 2:30 the next morning with some decorations and the man, whose name turns out to be Harry, says he'll make a cake.

At 2:30 the next morning, Tony is back. He has crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that says, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" They decorate the place from one end to the other and get it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. There were prostitutes wall to wall.

At 3:30 on the dot, the door swings open and in walks Agnes and her friend. Tony has everybody ready. They all shout and scream "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" Agnes is absolutely flabbergasted. She's stunned, her mouth falls open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost falls over.

And when the birthday cake with all the candles is carried out, that's when she totally loses it. Now she's sobbing and crying. Harry, who's not used to seeing a prostitute cry, gruffly mumbles, "Blow out the candles, Agnes. Come on. Stop crying and blow out the candles!!!"

Agnes pulls herself together and blows them out. Everyone cheers and yells, "Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!"

But Agnes looks down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly says, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if...I mean, if I don't...I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry doesn't know what to say so he shrugs and says, "Sure, if that's what you want to do. Keep the cake. Take it home if you want."

"Oh, could I?" she asks. Looking at Tony she says, "I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, and show it to my mom. I'll be right back, honest."

She gets off her stool, picks up the cake, and carries it out. Everybody watches in stunned silence and when the door closes behind her, nobody seems to know what to do. They look at each other. They look at Tony.

So Tony, being inspired by the Holy Spirit gets up on a chair and says, "What do you say that we pray together?"

And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prays for Agnes, for her life, her health, and her salvation. Tony recalls, "I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her."

When he's finished, Harry leans over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he says, "Hey, you told me you were a professor. You never told me you was a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony answers him quietly, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning!!!"

Harry thinks for a moment, and in a mocking way says, "No you don't. There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that."

+  +  +

Isn’t that what the Church is all about? Celebrating life and seeing the good in all people! Lifting up those who are broken and in despair and showing them a path of healing! Inviting ALL people, no matter where they’ve been in life and no matter how they have fallen, and letting them know they are loved, they are special, and they are beloved in the eyes of God!

As we prepare for Christmas, we are celebrating the “Good News of Great Joy” which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, that a “Savior is born!” The center of our Christian faith is all about celebrating this joyous news that a “Savior is born” and accepting His invitation here and now into His feast in the Kingdom of Heaven!

It’s no wonder why our Lord Jesus Christ used the analogy of a royal celebration to describe the Kingdom of Heaven in today’s Gospel reading. This is the Gospel that is always read two weeks before Christmas, and it reminds us that God wants all people to understand that they are invited into the heavenly feast in the Kingdom of Heaven; that there is no greater joy than to taste of this spiritual banquet, no greater fellowship than the love one experiences in this feast, and an eternal  happiness that will never fade away!

Christianity should never be seen as some joyless, cheerless, boring religion which strictly follows rules and regulations. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about a joyous celebration – an experience and a relationship that transforms our lives.

Yet, today’s Gospel story not only tells us about God’s Kingdom as a celebration, but also warns us about the only thing that can prevent us from entering into this divine celebration – and that is ourselves! Jesus uses the analogy of a King inviting guests to a feast, and yet shows how each invited guest makes an excuse NOT to attend The first is too consumed with his work and business. The second focuses on newly bought possessions. And the third allows family to interfere with the King’s invitation. The excuses aren’t bad in and of themselves – work, pleasure, and family – but each takes a priority over the invitation into the heavenly feast!

Christ teaches us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you!” For us to experience and enter into the greatest celebration of life, and to partake in this never-ending, eternal and heavenly feast that begins here and now, we must first respond to His invitation! We must put aside all else that demands our time in our lives and say YES to the One who invites us! We must say YES to this Advent Season of preparing for a spiritual celebration of Christmas! We must say YES to our Lord’s invitation and allow nothing to stand between us and the eternal feast that awaits us!

Jesus Christ is inviting each one of us to His heavenly banquet, starting with this upcoming Christmas Feast and continuing to offer a feast each and every day of our lives.

Agnes and the other prostitutes in Honolulu got a taste of what the heavenly feast is all about – a celebration of love and healing. We all are broken and lost in some ways, and we all are invited to come and partake!

Will we say YES to our Lord’s invitation and enter into His eternal Joy!!!

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