As Written in the Journal Argus' column 'Out of the Blue'
Author of Thriving in the Home School--A Parent's Guide
Author of the Donna Dawson books Redeemed and Word Alive Press's 2007 feature novel The Adam & Eve Project. www.inscribe.org/donnadawson
The Christmas Guest
I’ve been asked many times what Christmas means to me and have always been able to sum it up in one incident that happened many, many years ago.
I was quite young and had already enjoyed the excitement of unwrapping my gifts. Being the youngest of six children, you can well imagine the mayhem in our household on Christmas morning. But as the noise of the gift exchange faded and the preparation of the feast ahead commenced, the old bell chime at our front door rang.
Anyone familiar with our family knew that the front door was never used so when the shrill ring announced a guest, we crowded into the front hall curious as to who it could be.
Dad opened the door, welcoming onto the narrow carpet of the hall the blast of a winter storm and a ragged figure. The strong smell of an unwashed body told us instantly that our Christmas guest was a homeless wanderer and I was sure that she would be quickly sent back out into the bitter blast from whence she had come.
She carried a covered bird cage that held a thin, shivering rabbit—her only companion—and she was clothed in bits and pieces of cast-offs that had seen better days. Grey, greasy hair hung in limp and stained ropes around a thin, wrinkled face. Her eyes had that watery, faded essence to them that comes from living too long in the streets and she hunched into her scraps of clothing as though to shoulder off the wild winds.
As young as I was, I wondered why my parents didn’t just tell the old woman to be on her way. After all, it was Christmas Day—our family day—and she really shouldn’t be bothering people—so I thought. She had come to the door, fingers blue with the cold, asking only for a bit of lettuce for her bunny, and I watched in amazement as my parents ushered her in and settled her near the fire. Their kind gesture became a lesson of true Christian love stamped firmly into my youthful mind—one that I will never forget.
My mother, as tired as she was, asked the old girl if she had eaten.
“Not in awhile,” was the timid reply amidst the chattering of teeth.
“Come join us for dinner, then. It would be our privilege.”
I was floored. My parents were inviting this dirty, smelly, strange woman into our home for Christmas dinner? And so I watched with fascination as Mom and Dad settled this new guest at the head of our table and treated her to a feast such as she had probably never had. They would have offered her a bed for the night too if she had agreed to stay, but the old woman had her fill, warmed herself by the fire for a bit longer, then creaked to her feet again and headed to the door.
As I watched her thank my parents, tears in her faded eyes, I understood what shame was for the first time in my life. I, who had been taught about a God who loved me enough to send his Son to earth as the child of a poor carpenter, hadn’t thought enough of that love to pass it on to someone who desperately needed it. And as young as I was—I knew better.
My parents had taught me of the love behind the first Christmas. My church had taught me of it. But until that Christmas Day, when a vagrant landed on our doorstep, I hadn’t really understood it. As I watched my Mom and Dad fuss over society’s outcast, I began to see what sacrificial love really was. In that brief span of time, my parents showed me the true spirit behind Christmas—a giving of one’s self with no thought of gain—a helping hand to those who are without help—a demonstration of love for love’s sake alone.
Since that time, I’ve seen many Christmases come and go. None have affected me as that one did but all have reinforced the beauty of that one moment in my own history. And that single moment reminds me every year to look beyond my safe, warm cocoon and remember the reason for the season. May God bless you with a very Merry Christmas!