"The old shoemaker was snoring gently. Suddenly he heard a voice in the room."
In a little known tale by Leo Tolstoy, a lonely shoemaker prays for a visit from Jesus, so that he, like the Wise Men, might offer to the King the best of his gifts. In a strange nightly vision, his prayer is answered.
"Dear old shoemaster, you were wondering what you could give Me. Tonight I am going to visit your village. Look out for Me. I shall not say who I am."
As with most Christmas tales, Tolstoy's story could be criticized as being thoroughly fanciful, a fireside story to amuse starry-eyed children. Peace on Earth? Goodwill to Men? Show me, if you can, where peace lies. What, oh man, is goodwill on a sin-saturated planet so torn by strife, greed, deception, anger, sickness, loneliness, and pain? And where oh where is love in a world that appears to be just plain falling apart at the seams?
Ebeneazer Scrooge in Dickens' famous story would certainly agree when asked for alms for the poor.
"Are there no prisons? No workhouses?"
"Sir, many cannot go. And many would rather die."
"Well...they had better do it then, and decrease the surplus population!"
And yet--despite all the chaos, the political conundrums, and the ever-present news stations heralding sorrow, what is it about Christmas? What makes us feel as though we might be capable of setting aside our toil and self gain in looking down on our fellow man? Try as we might, we cannot escape the compulsive tug of Christmastime which whispers, "Behold, Love Himself has come!" For that is the very meaning of Advent. Advent is "the coming," the greatly anticipated arrival. A lion prowling through the icy depth of Winter's heart. Aslan on the move.
"No sooner had he gone back to his work than the old shoemaster heard a different set of footsteps. It must be Jesus! He rushed out into the street. But as the footsteps came closer, the old shoemaster recognized the figure of a poor widow and her children. How hungry they looked. "Come in and have some of my soup," said the kind old shoemaker, "I was saving it for a special guest, but I'm sure He won't mind. I still have another gift for Him."
In the midst of the darkness of the American Civil War, a Christmas hymn was penned:
"In despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on earth Goodwill to men." Yet the story does not end there.
Triumphantly the song proclaims: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on earth Goodwill to men." The God whose hands kindled the stars knelt to become a stranger in a dominion of the dark. The Prince of Light died a traitor's death to reconcile mankind to Himself. The Advent at Christmas means nothing without the victory of the Cross at Easter. He came to earth, and behold He is coming again. While we wait, we are to shine His light among men.
As Dickens writes, "Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Despite it all, and against all odds, Christmas remains, obstinantely standing in the path of Satan's total dominion, barring His path! Like Scrooge we must honor Christmas in our hearts and learn to keep it alive all year 'round. For in doing so, we keep our eyes and ears wide open, looking to sow the seeds of Heaven in the Real World. At Christmas, we strain to see Him, Jesus in disguise. He is always there, but are we looking?
In meeting the needs of our neighbors, friends, and people halfway around the globe, there we shall meet with Jesus. God became Emmanuel, God with Us, and now He continues to walk among us, hidden behind the forlorn faces of the bruised, the broken, and the hurting. Jesus in disguise. As Steven Curtis Chapman writes, "I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl. She was standing in a corner on the other side of the world. I saw the face of Jesus down on sixteenth avenue. He was sleeping in an old car, while his mom went looking for food."
Rejoice in the beauty of a God who came to earth, a baby who was called Savior, a man who was seen by the blind and heard by the deaf, and a Christ who bled his life, drop by drop, for this shadowed land. A Christmas story, the greatest story ever told, and one that is not only true, but goes on until Christ comes back, and we may play a small part in it. Every other Christmas tale merely echoes this one, resounds bell-like with its truth. Let it also be said of us that we know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge, though not with Santa Claus jingles, anxiety, and self centered thought that so often threatens the holidays (Dickens).
"The old shoemaster stared out of his window. Tears streamed down his face. Jesus had promised to visit him, but Jesus had not come. What would he do with all the shoes he had made?
As the sun rose in the sky, he looked across the street at the orphanage and wiped his tears away. He had a wonderful idea! He gathered up the shoes into a sack. Then he tiptoed across the street and into the orphanage.
He placed a pair of his finest shoes by each child. Then he tiptoed back to his shop, sat in his comfortable chair, and closed his eyes. As he dozed, he heard the same voice he had heard the night before: "Thank you, kind shoemaster. I visited you last night and you gave Me warmth. I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink. I was hungry and you fed Me, and, kind shoemaster, I was in the orphanage and you came to visit Me. Thank you for giving Me the finest pair of your shoes. Whatever you did for all these people, you also did for Me."
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