When I was a young woman, I lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood. Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood survived on government assistance, while others earned their living any way they could. I moved into the apartment because the rent was cheap and quite frankly, I was young and foolish. Despite all the warnings my family and friends were all too willing to issue against, what they saw as the unsavoury characters who inhabited the neighbourhood, I was convinced that I would be able to handle anything which came my way.
The office where I worked was just down the street from my apartment and every morning as I walked to work, I would meet some of my neighbours returning from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys. Each morning, I would be met at the entrance to my office by an old man named Ed. Ed was a wild character. He’d had been living on the streets for years. He was extremely hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and shout a great deal. I suspect that Ed slept on the doorstep of the building which housed my office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.
Even though Ed made the me nervous, I eventually got used to seeing him. Ed always gave me a warm welcome when I arrived at my office. He knew that when I got inside, I would brew a fresh cup of coffee. He used to tease me that I was a sucker for a sad face, as he waited patiently for me to bring him a cup of coffee. We never talked much, though, at least not about anything personal. Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world. I never did find out how Ed ended up on the streets. Nor did I ever know how he spent his days.
As Christmas approached, I became very busy with my elaborate preparations for the holiday. This was the first year that I had earned enough, so that I actually had more money than I needed to celebrate. So, I decorated my apartment lavishly, I bought all sorts of gifts and I spent hours wrapping each one of them. That year, I was determined that this was the year I wasn’t going to be rushed. I wasn’t going to miss out on anything. Christmas wasn’t going to come and go without finding the Christmas SPIRIT.
That year, I had drawn the short straw and I had to work on Christmas Eve. So, before I left her apartment, I wrapped up a small package of goodies for Ed. I was delighted that I was so well prepared that I could take time out for others. But when I got to the office, Ed was nowhere in sight. I asked some of the women who worked the streets if they had seen old Ed. But no one knew where he was. I got busy with work and I soon forgot all about old Ed.
I finished work early and went off to celebrate Christmas Eve with my friends. I had been looking forward to Christmas for weeks and was eager to begin the celebrations. And sure enough, together, my friends and I, we shared a fine Christmas goose with all the trimmings and then together, we all went off to church for a worship service by candlelight. The service was beautiful. They really pulled out all the stops. There was great music, the choir was wonderful, and there was lots of activity. The preacher even managed to keep her sermon brief. But somehow, I was left feeling like there was something missing. The next morning, I celebrated with my family. My little nieces eagerly unpacked dozens of presents and on the whole we all managed to set aside all our longstanding family grievances long enough to get along for a day. But something wasn’t quite right. I felt detached, like I was just going through the motions. Despite all the elaborate trimmings, I felt like I had missed out on my share of the Christmas SPIRIT. On Boxing Day, as I drove back to my apartment in the city, I found myself wondering if this was all there was to it. Christmas had come and gone, and I didn’t feel like anything had changed at all.
By the time I had parked my car, I was feeling a little depressed. I had those post-Christmas blues. Christmas was over and nothing much had changed. When I got to the entrance of my apartment, I saw Ed standing there. I had never before seen him anywhere near my apartment before and it made me more than a little nervous. I wondered how he had found out where I lived. It frightened me to think that Ed had taken the trouble to find my apartment. What’s more, he looked very agitated. Nervously, I greeted Ed and asked him why he was at my doorstep. Ed explained to me that he needed my help. Well, this made every uneasy. I mean the odd cup of coffee at work was one thing, but this old man showing up on my doorstep was something altogether different. Clearly, he wanted something.
Ed asked me if I would come with him to the park and I was kind of caught off guard, I reluctantly agreed. When we arrived in the park, Ed introduced me to Karen. Karen was a very scared looking teenager. She couldn’t have been more than about fourteen years old. Ed explained to me 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 in the big city. 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 to try to work things out with her parents. Ed explained to me that Karen needed money for a bus ticket back home.
After we had called Karen’s parents and safely loaded her onto a bus, I asked Ed if he would come with and to share a meal. Ed refused the offer of a meal but agreed to share a cup of coffee with me. 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 LOVE to be born. Ed was the prophet, a modern-day John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, who pointed to the CHRIST, the LOVE which lives in all of us.
I had almost missed it. CHRIST had come. I was so busy looking up to the heavens, that I forgot to look around me. CHRIST came to me in the guise of Karen and LOVE was born. “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, like LOVE, comes to us, again and again, and again, each and every day, 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, we would do well to remember that most of the world was too preoccupied and utterly unprepared for that first Advent and so very many people 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, for CHRIST, like LOVE, may come suddenly and find you asleep. Be prepared. Keep awake! Watch for we know not when CHRIST or where LOVE will come. Keep watch, so that whenever and wherever the LOVE which we call, “God” comes, it may find a home in you. Prepare the way for LOVE to arrive.