The people gathered in small clumps, on this Sunday early in Advent, chatting and laughing before entering the sanctuary. Some sipped coffee while they caught up on the week’s events. Outside in the bright sun the children were playing. A man with a yellow dog who was walking by the church stopped and asked the children for directions to the rail yards.
The children invited the man into the church. They tied his dog outside and brought it a bowl of water and someone gave it a cupcake. They led the man to the preacher, telling him that the stranger needed directions and a little money for food.
The preacher, tall, well-groomed in his black robe and satin stole looked at the man and caught the smell of whiskey. He invited the man to worship and said that afterwards we’d see about some food.
That Sunday amid the handsome suits and stylish dresses, the colorful wool sweaters, and the neatly styled hair and deodorized bodies, sat a man in a torn jacket, baggy pants and wearing shoes with cracked soles.
They had gathered on this morning to keep their observance of Advent. They spoke and sang of things to come, of waiting, of expectation, and of hope. The minister admonished the people to be alert, on the look-out, for Christ might come at any moment. Afterwards the people went downstairs for a pot-luck lunch and an afternoon of games and songs and making gifts for shut-ins.
The man in the torn coat did not join them, though he was invited. He sat on a gray folding chair upstairs and talked about Jesus and wept. He said he knew he had done bad, that he was just a bum. He rode in empty boxcars across the country with his dog. Then he said his father sold him when he was six for a case of beer.
The pastor was uneasy. He needed to be downstairs to say the grace. Was the man’s story true? How many other churches had he been to that morning? He handed him a sack of food and drove the man and his yellow dog to the rail yards.
The children who had found the man asked their teacher why he had no money and why he wouldn’t stay with them and how could your parents sell you and wasn’t his dog wonderful and would he come again? “I don’t think so,” said the teacher.
Christ entered our midst, right on schedule with our liturgical calendar, wearing a torn jacket. His only follower was a yellow dog. There was whiskey on his breath. He saw quickly how the inn was full.
We told him politely as possible that we just didn’t have much room for folks who ride boxcars and have a problem with alcohol.
Once a young student asked a rabbi how it was that no one ever saw God any more. The rabbi responded: “Because nowadays no one is willing to stoop so low.”
Think of the person you have most despised, whom you have found utterly repulsive, revolting. See that person in your mind. Recall your disgust. Now answer this question: Who did you think it was that needed to be loved, anyway?
For God so loved the world . . .
This post is an excerpt from a Reader’s Drama I wrote many years ago, titled Adventually – Waiting for the Messiah. It is also a true story.
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I love this story. I wonder if the man in the torn jacket remembers that day too.