I wanted, with my Methodist colleague, to provide a meal for the international students, and to share some of the cultural significance, and some of the Christian heart, of Christmas.
I mentioned our plans to a group from the local Presbyterian congregation, who make a point of befriending international students, and providing hospitality over holidays. They volunteered to help us with the food and anything else we needed.
We spent the day clearing the hall, rearranging and cleaning the grimy chairs and tables... Just as we were realising that the tables we wanted to bring up from downstairs were far too heavy for us to lift, a friendly -and burly- student arrived to help us. A real God-send.
We got the place set up, and as daylight fell, the colours of the room warmed, and our plain white tablecloths with a single white candle on a red napkin, began to glow with simplicity and welcome. We had no idea who would avail of our invitation. The kind accommodation office had offered to deliver the fliers, but it meant we had no personal contact with most of the students, and no idea whether there would be ten or a hundred. In catering, we had picked a number: sixty. In setting up, the available tables and chairs had allowed for sixty. And when the room was full, and all were being fed, I did a quick head-count. Sixty...
At the end of the night, there was just a little left over. Enough to show that no one had been underfed! We had lots of grateful students, lots of good contact, and the privilege of explaining in some way why we celebrate Jesus. We sang a few Christmas Carols: Hark the herald angels sing, O little town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night, and the Germans made it perfect by offering a spontaneous verse of Stille Nacht.
Grateful and humbled, that from the chaos and disorganisation, God took the best we could offer, and used it to bless people from many nations. As the prophet Isaiah said, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
And as God said to Abraham,
"I will bless you ... and I will make you a blessing to others.
...All the families of the earth will be blessed through you." Genesis 12.2,3