It was colder than anyone remembered. The hillside streets, covered with snow in December, made it impossible to move from one place to another, to get mail, groceries, or to even visit needy neighbors, but it was the night of blessings for someone who knew what Christmas really means.
Ice, from freezing rain, hardened the snow beneath, as the slippery slopes that wound through the town became impossible for navigation by even the most adept.
The old man had walked on icy streets before, when snowy days were welcomed as a regular season change, with some discomforts along with the joys of winter sports and inside family fun. It was only the plan ahead and his memories now that kept him moving forward, hoping to find some shelter before the streets became too dark and the cold too great to bear. He hobbled slowly, bent against the wind, stopping here and there to keep his balance and prevent a fall. Every homeless center had been full, and there was no place to go when night fell. And it was Christmas, and the lighted windows of the homes along the roadside twinkled only for those formally invited in.
The old man knew his mission. So in spite of the winter rigors, he continued his walk along the roadside before stopping at the first house where lively laughter from inside its doorways seemed to say a stranger would be welcomed. He knocked loudly, hoping to be heard above the sounds inside, and then stood some distance back from the entrance, a short, but polite distance, not wanting to frighten the occupants when they came. He just needed food and a bed for the night.
When the door opened, a man and woman appeared, shook their heads and waved the old man away. “Can’t I just come in for a little while?” the old man had asked. “I won’t stay long. I just need to rest a little.” But the door closed fast behind him, as the old man walked away to face the bitter cold.
It became more and more difficult for the old man to find his way along the lonely streets as the night grew dark around him. The roadway was almost obscured except for a few lights at street corners. One small house stood out from all the others, for unlike its neighbors it had no special trimmings, Christmas decorations, or lights around the windows. Just one lamp, hung outside, cast a small beam across the stairway leading to the door. The old man knocked and waited.
Finally the door opened. A young man appeared. He was pale, thin and shaking. “Please,” the old man said. “May I come in and rest for awhile. The young man nodded, looking at the weary traveler before him. “Come inside,” he told the old man, never minding the visitor’s shabby shoes and wet and ragged clothes. “You must be cold. Where are you going on a night like this?” His new guest followed the young man into the house, saying little at first, until he had a moment to sit and get warmed a bit.
“I’m on a journey,” the old man said as he looked around, noting there was little sign of Christmas in this house. The furniture was worn and frayed, but the house was warm and comfortable. He sat back against the sofa, looking at the young man with the sad eyes who had welcomed him into his home. “I have come to find those who love the Lord tonight, those sitting by the manger.
“I don’t have much to offer,” the young man said. “But you’re welcome to what I have. There’s just me here. I haven’t been able to work anymore. And maybe when I tell you what’s wrong, you might not want to stay. I love the Lord, but I’m not sure that He loves me. You see, I have a sickness that makes people afraid and some just call me a sinner, sometimes right out loud and say I am not worthy before God. You see I have AIDS.”
The old man nodded and quietly said “This is where I belong tonight,” and thanked the young man for the welcome.
His host’s grief sat starkly on a face so thin and frail. The old man ate the meager piece of bread and bowl of soup he had been offered and said, “I know I will sleep well tonight. This is the night that God has made for special blessings again.” With that he took the blanket and pillow he’d been given, and laid down on the couch as the stars beamed through the windows, with one of them shining more brightly than ever before, and soon fell fast asleep. The young man watched for a moment, then took to his bed for another night of expected restlessness and pain.
This night sleep came quickly for this youth. It had been a long time since he had slept so well and so deeply. And he had dreamed for the first time in many months, dreams that were filled with light and love and the embrace of peace that comes when all is well. When morning came, he lingered in his bed awhile, watching the sun as it lit the small home with its wonderful morning light.
The young man stood and stretched as he had done those days before, to ease the aching muscles to prepare for a painful day. As he did, his body, smooth and whole, was supple with each move. His head was clear, and his hands and body no longer shook. He felt suddenly calm, his breathing deep and strong. His skin, so rubbery and pocked before, was now smooth. Gone were the sores on the backs of his hands and top of his face that had made people shudder in revulsion, to turn away, or stare. Gone too were the black and blue discolorations from bruising that came with even simple touch.
The young man walked briskly into the living room, expecting to see his visitor still asleep on the couch. Instead the bundle of blankets left neatly folded on the couch atop the pillows told him the old man had already gone. A note pinned to them might explain why he’d left without saying anything. It read simply, “I was a stranger, and you took me in and gave me food to eat. The kingdom of heaven is open to you as it was your heart that had the key.”You will be blessed with the mercy that you have given me.”
“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in.” (Matthew 26:34-35)