I have a memory of Christmas time as a child, when my father used to read his favourite Christmas stories to us. Many of them came from a colourful and richly illustrated book by the famous American preacher, Peter Marshall. My father had bought the book as a young man and cherished it for many years. Although all of the stories were special, there was one particular story, which somehow touched me more deeply than the others.
This story was about some children who had received the almost unimaginable news that the king of that country was planning to pay them a visit. What news, what discussion, what excitement!!
On the day that the king was due the children got up very early to prepare everything for this very special occasion. All on their own they decorated their back garden with flowers and holly; they laid some tables with cookies and drinks that they had specially prepared. And then they sat down to wait. In my mind’s eye I can still see the picture in the book, of the children sitting on the wall, staring out in eager anticipation, waiting for the king.
But the king never came. This was the disappointing truth that started to dawn on them as the hours dragged on and nothing appeared on the horizon. However, just as they had started to accept that the news had been all rumour and were ready to pack up, something unforeseen happened. Looking up, they saw a stranger standing at their front gate. He was shabbily dressed and looked extremely weary. So the children invited him in and offered him what they had prepared for the king, what he had failed to claim.
The encounter with the stranger turned into a special occasion: the children served him with all their pent up energy and he graciously accepted their gifts of generosity and kindness, also allowing them to share in his gifts of love, acceptance and concern. In fact, their time with the stranger became such a happy and intriguing experience that their disappointment about the king’s aborted visit gradually disappeared.
When the stranger eventually continued his journey, slowly disappearing into the distance with the setting sun catching his golden hair, the children suddenly realised that a king had been with them. This king was indeed totally different from the one they had imagined and expected. He was a much more humble and simple person, without conspicuous glamour, influence or following. He came as a lonely and weary traveller with friendly eyes and a loving aura.
Peter Marshall of course told this story to remind us of the very old truth that the God who came to us on Christmas day came to us as a stranger, in the guise of an ordinary humble person. The God who appeared in Christ came to serve us with love and forgiveness and not in the first place with all the material goods or glamour that we tend to seek or strive for so anxiously. His spirit of childlike modesty and sobriety should also inform our lifestyle and outlook this Christmas, especially where we are tempted once again to buy indiscriminately and consume unabatedly. According to the gospel, the gift of modesty and containment is God’s great gift to us at Christmas. In the words of an old Irish song:
It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free
It’s a gift to come round where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in a way that’s right
We will live in a valley of love and delight.
“Die Via Dolorosa” – ‘n Paasherinneringsdiens
13 years ago