It is obvious from today’s Gospel account that John the Baptist was a very practical man. Christianity is a very practical and social religion. It is not just a matter of God and me, but of God, me, and others.
There is a story about a cobbler by the name of Martin who lived and worked in a basement room. Its one window enabled him to see just the feet of passers-by on the street above. But since there was hardly a pair of boots or shoes that had not passed through his hands, he was able to identify the persons by their shoes. Life had been hard on him. His wife died, leaving him with a young son. However, the son had barely reached the age when he could be of help to his father when he fell ill and died. Martin was devastated. After burying him, he gave way to despair. At the same time he gave up the practice of his religion and took to drinking.
One day an old friend dropped in. Martin poured out his soul to him. His friend advised him to read a little from the Gospels each day, promising him that if he did so, light and hope would come back into his life.
Martin took his friend’s advice. At the end of each day he would take down the Gospels from the shelf and read a little. At first he meant to read only on Sundays, but he found it so interesting that he soon read every day. Slowly things began to change. Hope crept back into his life.
One night as he sat reading he thought he heard someone calling him: “Martin, look out into the street tomorrow, for I will come to visit you.” Since there was no one else in the room, he reckoned it must have been the Lord himself who had spoken to him.
When he sat down to his work next day he was very excited. As he worked he kept a close eye on the window. He scrutinized every pair of shoes or boots that passed above him. He was looking for someone special. But all he saw was the usual people passing by.
In the early afternoon he saw a pair of unfamiliar boots. They belonged to an old soldier named Stephen. Going to the window he looked up and saw the old man hitting his hands together as it was bitterly cold outside. Martin wished that he would move on, because he was afraid he might obstruct his view, and that he would not see the Lord when he passed.
But Stephen just stood there by the railing. Finally it occurred to Martin that maybe Stephen had nothing to eat all day. So he tapped on the window and motioned him to come in. He sat him down by the fire and gave him tea and bread. Stephen was most grateful and said he had not eaten for two days. As he left, Martin gave him his second overcoat as a shield against the bitter cold. All the time Martin was entertaining Stephen he has not forgotten the window. Every time a shadow fell on it he looked up but nobody special passed.
Night fell. Martin finished his work and reluctantly closed the window shutters. After supper he took down the Gospels and, as was his custom, opened the book at random. There his eyes fell on these words: “The people came to John and asked, ‘What should we do?” And he said, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Martin put the Gospels down and reflected. He understood then that the Lord had indeed come to him that day in the person of Stephen, and that he had made him welcome. His heart was filled with joy, a joy he had never experienced before.
What are you doing this Advent to “Welcome the Word?” Remember that Jesus comes to us each and every day under different disguises. Don’t miss him or you will miss him on Christmas Day.
– Fr. Dennis, 16 December, 2018