We got to church and found our usual seats. The place was full. It was full of folks that come to church every Sunday and of folks that want to come to church on Christmas Eve. I love going to church on Christmas Eve because I see a bunch of folks that I don't normally see at church. Not that I really care, but I love to see the crowd and feel the energy of church.
As the crowd quieted down and the service started, I looked around. To my left was the usual Sunday morning crew...they sit the same place every Sunday and so do we.
I looked farther down the row and I saw a young woman wiping tears. She was a beautiful girl and I didn't recognize her but it looked as if she was alone and she was hurting. The service went on and I tried not to stare but I couldn't take my eyes off of her. The tears were being held in, and as they snuck out of the corner of her eyes, wiped as fast as they were coming out...she was in pain and it was hard not to see.
Christmas eve is a festive time for most folks and to see someone in pain is difficult and to say the least, uncomfortable. For some reason, I could not take my eyes off of her. As the service went on, I thought about why such a pretty girl could hurt so much...why she was alone and what could possible be so sad. I sang the songs, recited the prayers, and watched her. She continued to cry through the service and I continued to watch her.
All at once, during the collection, she jumped up and headed out of the church. I handed my son my bulletin and followed her. I couldn't let her leave my church...my place where I go to worship God without connecting with a hurting person. What kind of person would I be if I didn't offer a kind word and a human connection? I thought about how I would feel if my daughter was the one in the church crying and no one stopped to give her comfort...
She had gone to the bathroom to wipe her tears and gather herself. I opened the door and stared at her for a few seconds. Finally, I got the courage to say something..."I've been watching you and you are so sad"...before I could say anymore, I gathered her in my arms and told her that I was glad she was with us and did she want to come home with us. She just sobbed for a few seconds, gathered herself, told me she was so glad she was here too. I told her I was usually at church on Sundays and she should come back. She hugged me again and walked back in to church.
Made me think of a Christmas even in 1992, when I was 7 months pregnant with my first child. This story was the Christmas eve sermon. I hope you enjoy it...
The Story of the Christmas Guest by Helen Steiner Rice
It happened one day at December's endSome neighbors called on an old-time friend.
And they found his shop so meager and mean,
Made gay with a thousand boughs of green.
And old Conrad was sitting with face ashine.
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched the twine.
And he said "My friends at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me.
And He said, 'I'm coming your guest to be"
So I've been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined.
And now I'll wait for my Lord to appear;
And listen closely so I will hear,
His steps as he nears my humble place.
And I'll open the door and I'll look on his face."
Then his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since his family had passed away.
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start,
And looked for the Lord to be at his door.
Like the vision that he had had a few hours before.
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn.
And all his clothes were ragged and worn.
But old Conrad was touched and he went to the door
And he said, "Your feet must be cold and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you.
And I have a coat to keep you warmer, too."
So with grateful heart the man went away.
But Conrad notice the time of day
And he wondered what made the dear Lord so late,
And how much longer he'd have to wait.
Then he heard another knock, and he ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more.
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
And a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
But she asked only for a place to rest,
a place that was reserved, for Conrad's great guest.
But her voice seemed to plead, "Don't send me away,
Let me rest for awhile this Christmas Day."
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
After she had left, he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away
The Lord had not come as He said He would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry.
"Please help, me and tell me - Where am I?"
So again he opened his friendly door.
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was a child who had wandered away,
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.
Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he could make this little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tears,
And he quieted all her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more.
Then as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today,
For the hours of Christmas, had all passed away.
So he went to his room, and he knelt down to pray.
He said, "Lord, why did you delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
I wanted so much Your face to see."
Then softly, in the silence, a voice he heard.
"Lift up your head - I have kept My word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor.
Three times I came to your lowly door.
I was the beggar with bruised cold feet;
I was the woman you gave something to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best.
I was honored to be your Christmas guest.
I didn't see her again after the service. I was busy wishing all my friends Merry christmas and enjoying lovely energy of the night. But I thought of her and her blue eyes filled with tears as I went to bed last night. I also thought of how uncomfortable I was when I stopped her and how she clung to me and laid her head on my shoulder. It may not have been an answer to her problems but I hope it was a human connection, a feeling that one person on earth noticed that she was hurting and that they care.
Because we all do...I know we care about each other and sometimes it's just too uncomfortable to stop, look someone in the eye and let them know it. I can say that I was shaking in my ballet shoes...but, I continued to hear that little voice that told me to go and I'm so glad I did.
So tonight, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy holidays and a happy New Year. I also wish you strength to care for the hurting, strength to accept the love of someone caring for you...
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,