Tis the season…the tree is lit with hundreds of lights, the house is warm with firelight while the snow falls outside. The gifts are wrapped in colorful paper and the kids gather anxiously wondering what surprises await them. It’s a wonderful time of year, and yet, sometimes I find myself wondering if I’m really enjoying it. I ask myself, am I keeping the Spirit of Christmas? As wonderful as it is, there is always so much to do– school projects, community service, concerts, church events–and I often wish I could just relax and enjoy Christmas.
One of my favorite poems has helped me evaluate and re-think how I keep the Spirit of Christmas. It’s a little long, but I share it here with you…
The GuestAdapted from How The Great Guest Came by Edwin Markham
It happened one day near December’s end,
Two neighbors called on an old time friend,
And they found his shop so meager and poor,
Made bright with boughs from ceiling to floor,
And Conrad was sitting with face ashine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And said, “Old friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me–
And said, “I am 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 will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His step as he nears my humble place–
Then I’ll open the door and look on his face.”
So 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 great 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 look for the Lord to be at the door
Like the dream he 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 of his clothes were ragged and worn;
But Conrad was touched and went to the door,
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore–
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
And a coat that will keep you warmer too.”
So with a grateful heart the man went away–
But Conrad noticed the time of day;
He wondered what had made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait–
Then he heard a knock and 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.
She asked for only a place to rest–
But that was reserved for Conrad’s great guest,
Yet her voice seemed to plead,
“Don’t send me away,
Let me rest for a while on this Christmas day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left, he was filled with dismay,
For he saw that the hours were slipping away,
And 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 only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas day.
And Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he could make this little girl glad.
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears,
Then he led her back to her home once more,
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And Conrad asked, “Lord, why did you delay?
What kept you from coming to call on me
For I wanted so much your face to see.”
Then soft in the stillness a voice he heard,
“Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor,
Three times I came to your lowly door;
For I was the beggar with bruised cold feet
I was the woman you gave something to eat
And 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.”
When I read this, I am reminded that all of the things I am doing: buying gifts for loved ones, staying up late to help my children with homework and projects, making Christmas treats for others, serving at food drives, delivering packages, choir practice, and so on are all a part of serving. We celebrate Christmas as a reminder of our Lord and Savior. The scriptures remind us that when we serve others we are in the service of God.
So to all those who say they hate the holidays because they are so busy and there’s just not enough time to enjoy Christmas, I say, “Bring it on!” The very fact that we are busy doing things to celebrate, to make Christmas just a little bit better for someone else, is the Spirit of Christmas itself.
May you have a bright and merry Christmas with wonderful things to come in the new year!