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Ever throw a party and no one showed up? I have. It’s humiliating. But have you ever heard of not having a party and everyone came? It happened at our house one Christmas Eve many years ago.

My earliest memories of Christmas Eve were Mama and Daddy’s annual Christmas Open House. Invitations went out the first of December, addressed, with times staggered, so folks would arrive in small groups because of the size of our modest home. But every year they came, fifty, sixty, seventy-five of them, all arriving early and staying ‘til…

Laughter, singing, and joyful conversation filled all the rooms of our house and Christmas Eve became a Rockefeller-Center-event for my brother, Andy and me.

Mama’s food would have made Paula Deen proud. The house sparkled, the tree shimmered, and the table—always a picture out of Southern Living. My brother and I were as excited about the party as we were the gifts under the tree. And we were allowed to stay up late while other kids had to go to bed. Daddy said Santa made an exception for us and placed our house on his last-stop-list before returning to the North Pole.

But one Christmas Eve in the mid ‘50’s, my parents decided not to have their annual Christmas Eve party. No polishing silver, no party preparations, no delicious smells from Mama’s kitchen. It didn’t even seem like Christmas to my brother and me.

Andy and I moped over Christmas Eve dinner and prepared for a gloomy evening with the folks and the sentence of an early bedtime.

Until headlights shined in the driveway, followed by a second set of headlights, and then another and another. The doorbell rang and a crowd of expectant-party-goers shouted “Merry Christmas”.

Daddy opened the door and after an awkward moment of silence between the guests and would-be-hosts, Mama and Daddy’s smiles lit up as bright as our Christmas lights and they ushered the confused guests into our living room.

There would be a party after all.

Mama’s Christmas cookies were rushed to the table, and the fresh coconut cake ready for tomorrow’s dinner would soon be gobbled. She was the poster model for magic chef. Within minutes the table miraculously filled with delicious tidbits from Mama’s fridge and pantry.

I heard ladies tell her over and over, “I thought my invitation was lost in the mail.” And, “it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without gathering at your house.”

Next day we ate left-over’s for Christmas dinner and laughed and agreed it had been the best party ever. Mama and Daddy pledged never to cancel their party again. They couldn’t—the people would come even without an invitation.

How times and relationships have changed. I marvel at these precious memories. A night so many years ago filled with good news. The good news of friendships—love and delight in just being together. The good news of  Mama and Daddy who gave us a home where grace and love and friendships trumped all else. The good news of confidence that all who came to our table would be blessed and welcomed by my folks.

How appropriate is this loving memory of my parents tonight, at the beginning of the 2012 Christmas celebration.

Yet, over two thousand years ago, another invitation was issued by an angelic choir in the skies over Bethlehem. An invitation first given to shepherds who received the Good News of Jesus.

God’s invitation, brought by His Son, who guarantees a place at God’s table. A table in an eternal home, with a forever family where mercy and grace and a loving relationship wait to be lavished on any and all who will come to Jesus.

Have you accepted your invitation? It’s not lost in the mail, it’s in the Word and in your heart. He promised, there’s a seat at His table—just for you. Your name is engraved on the place card and the smiling face and loving arms of Jesus are stretched open to welcome you.

The date’s been set. The preparations are in order. Will you be there?

Award winning article in North Texas Christian Writers 2012 “Write Before Christmas” contest.

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