The Christmas Guest

When I used to host my Sunday morning radio show, I had lots of requests for this reading during December. I'm not sure who wrote it. The earliest version I can find is a short story by the 19th century American author and poet Edwin Markham. The various poems and dramatic readings are listed as being written by Grandpa Jones, Mel Torme, Helen Steiner Rice, and others - nobody seems to know for sure. There's a sense in which Jesus wrote it when He said, "Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brothers, ye did it unto Me." But regardless of who wrote it, re-reading it is one of my favorite things about Christmas, and I wanted to share it with you. Merry Christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST

It happened one day near December's end Two neighbors called on an old friend And they found his shop so meager and lean Made gay with thousand bows of green

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine And he 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'm coming your guest to be'

"So I've been busy with feet astir Strewing my shop with branches of fern The table is spread and the kettle is shined And over the rafters the holly is twined

"Now I'll wait for my Lord to appear And listen closely so I will hear His step As He nears my humble place. And 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 Christmas 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 his door Like the vision he had 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 he went to the door And he said, "You know, 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 grateful heart the man went away But Conrad noticed the time of day And wondered what made the Lord so late And how much longer he'd have to wait

When he heard a knock, he ran to the door But it was only a stranger once more A bent old lady with a shawl of black With 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

But her voice seemed to plead "Don't send me away Let me rest for awhile on 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 hadn't 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'd wandered away And was lost from her family on Christmas Day

Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad But he knew he should make the little girl glad So he called her in and he 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 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 he said, "Dear Lord, why did You delay? What kept You from coming to call on me? For I wanted so much Your face to see"

When soft in the silence a voice he heard "Lift up your head for I kept my word Three times my shadow crossed your floor And three times I came to your lonely door

"I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet And I was the woman you gave something to eat I was the child on the homeless street Three times I knocked and three times I came in And each time I found the warmth of a friend Of all the gifts, love is the best And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest"