There was a young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood. It was the east end of a very large city. Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could. The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish. She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.
Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters. The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys. Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.
Ed had been living on the streets for years. He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot. Ed was a wild man. He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather. Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.
Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived. He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee. They never talked much, though. Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world. The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets. She didn’t know how he spent his days.
As Christmas approached the young woman became very busy with her preparations for the holiday. This was the first year that she had more money than she needed to celebrate with. She decorated her apartment, she bought all sorts of gifts and spent hours wrapping each one. This year she wasn’t going to be rushed. She wasn’t going to miss out on anything. Christmas wasn’t going to come and go without finding her in the Christmas spirit.
That year the young woman had drawn the short straw and had to work on Christmas Eve. So, before she left her apartment, she packed a small package of goodies for Ed. She was delighted that she was so well prepared that she could take time for others. But when she got to the office, Ed was no where in sight. She asked some of the women who worked the streets if they had seen old Ed. But no one knew where he was.
The young woman went about her duties and soon forgot all about old Ed. She finished her work early and went off to celebrate Christmas Eve with her friends. She had been looking forward to Christmas for weeks and was eager to celebrate. Together, she and her friends shared a fine Christmas goose with all the trimmings and then they went of to a candle light service. The service was beautiful. They really pulled out all the stops, great music, lots of activity. The preacher even managed to keep his sermon brief. But somehow the young woman was left feeling like there was something missing.
The next morning she celebrated with her family. Her nieces eagerly unpacked dozens of presents and on the whole the family managed to keep their disagreements down to the minimum that year. But the young woman felt detached, like she was just going through the motions. Despite all the elaborate trimmings, she felt like she had missed out on her fair share of the Christmas spirit.
As she drove back to her apartment in the city she found herself wondering if this was all there was to it. Christmas had come and gone and she didn’t feel like anything had changed at all. By the time she had parked her car, she was feeling quite depressed. Christmas was over and nothing much had changed.
When she got to the entrance of her apartment, she saw Ed. She had never seen him anywhere near her apartment before and it made her more than a little nervous. She wondered how he had found out where she lived. Indeed, it frightened her that Ed had taken the trouble to find her apartment. Ed looked very agitated.
Nervously the young woman greeted Ed and asked him why he was at her doorstep. Ed explained to her that he needed her help. The young woman became very uneasy. The odd cup of coffee at work was one thing, but this old man showing up on her door step was quite another. And now he wanted something. Ed asked the young woman if she would come with him to the park. Caught off guard, the young woman reluctantly agreed. When they arrived in the park, Ed introduced the young woman to Karen.
Karen was a very scared looking teenager. She couldn’t have been more than about fourteen years old. Ed explained to the young woman that Karen had run away from home on Christmas Eve. He said that lots of kids ended up on the streets at this time of year and there were usually lots of unsavoury characters to meet them when they arrived. When Karen arrived at the city bus depot, Ed had spotted her. From the moment she arrived, Ed had carefully watched over Karen, making sure that she came to no harm in the city. Karen’s two days on the streets and Ed’s gentle persuasion had convinced her that she should really go back home and try to work things out with her parents. Ed explained to the young woman that Karen needed money for a bus ticket home.
After they had called Karen’s parents and safely loaded her onto a bus, the young woman asked Ed if he would come and share a meal with her. Ed refused the offer of a meal but agreed to share a cup of coffee with the young woman.
In the coffee shop, I took a long hard look at old Ed. That night in the coffee shop, I looked into the eyes of a wild man. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, in his own way, Ed had helped me to prepare the way for Christ. Ed was the prophet who pointed to Christ. I had almost missed it. Christ had come. I was so busy looking up that I had forgotten to look around me.
Christ came to me in Karen. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Christ comes to us in the most unlikely of places wearing the most unlikely of faces.
Just as Advent moves us toward the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the first century, it also reminds us that most of the world was preoccupied and utterly unprepared for that first Advent and many missed the whole thing. The question is: Will we miss the whole thing again?” For we do not know the day or hour, no one knows.
Therefore keep awake–Christ may come suddenly and find you asleep. So be prepared. Keep awake! Watch for we know not when Christ comes. Watch, so that you might be found whenever and wherever Christ comes. Prepare the way for Christ.