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A Sunday school teacher was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people believe that I’m a Christian?” the man asked. The boys squirmed, but no one answered, so he asked again, “Why do people believe that I’m a Christian?” Finally, Little Johnny raised his hand. “Yes, Johnny. Why do people think I’m a Christian.” Johnny answered,“Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”
You don’t see it as much anymore, but several years back there was a rather popular message on outdoor church signs: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Would there be any physical evidence, more than just wearing a crucifix or a WWJD bracelet, would there be visible works? Would there be witnesses who would come forward and testify to your life as a Christian? Would your own testimony be enough to convict you? Would there be changed lives in the wake of your passing due to your Christian witness? Or would it be like that Sunday school teacher, once folks got to know you…? To this, all I can say is, “Please don’t put me on the stand!”
Yes, I can pull it off on occasion and I even dress the part, but if you really get to know me… Fr. Klukas was my Liturgics professor in seminary. When you asked him if he would like a cup of coffee, he would always respond, “Yes, please. Black, like my heart.” I take my coffee the same way. So we say with St. Paul, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.… Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” You see, we don’t come to God because we are saints. We come to God because we are those in need of a loving and merciful God, who, in spite of our “coffee” like hearts, desires to draw us to Himself. In return, he asks that we extend to others, both friend and stranger (and even enemy), as much of this same love and mercy as we are able. And we’ll do so in the occasional great works, but most often it will be witnessed in the everyday moments of our lives.
A taxi driver recorded the following event during a day at work: I arrived at the address and signaled. After waiting a few minutes, I beep again. Since this was supposed to be my last passenger, I thought about leaving, but instead I parked the car, went to the door and knocked … “Just a minute,” said a fragile, elderly woman’s voice. I heard something being dragged along the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened. A little woman of about 90 was standing in front of me. She was wearing a plain dress and a hat with a veil, as if from 1940s films. Next to her was a small suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for many years. All furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no trinkets or dishes on the shelves. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photographs and glassware.
“Would you help me carry the bag to the car?” She asked. I took the suitcase to the car and then came back to help the woman. She took my hand and we slowly walked toward the car.
She continued to thank me for my kindness. “It’s nothing,” I told her, “I just try to treat my passengers the way I want them to treat my mother.”
“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. When we got into the car, she gave me the address and then asked: “Could you go through the center of the city?”
“This is not the shortest route. It’ll be much more expensive,” I replied.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. – “I’m not in a hurry.”
I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes sparkled. “My family left a long time ago,” she continued in a low voice, “The doctor says that I have not very long to go.”
I calmly extended my hand and turned off the meter.
“What route would you like to go?” I asked.
For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the area where she and her husband lived when they were newlyweds. She showed me a furniture warehouse, which was once a dance hall, where she worked as a little girl.
Sometimes she asked me to slow down in front of a specific building or alley and sat staring into the darkness, saying nothing. Then she suddenly said: “I am tired, perhaps we will go now.”
We rode in silence at the address she gave me. It was a low building, something like a small sanatorium, with a driveway along the portico. It was a hospice unit.
Two nurses approached the car as soon as we arrived. They gently helped her out. Must have been waiting for her. I opened the trunk and carried a small suitcase at the door. The woman was already sitting in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” She asked, reaching for her purse.
“Nothing at all,” I said.
“You have to make a living,” she replied.
“There are other passengers,” I replied.
Almost without thinking, I leaned over and hugged her. She hugged me tightly in response.
“You gave the old lady some happiness,” she said. “Thank you.”
I squeezed her hand and then left. The door closed behind my back, it was the sound of closing another book of life.
The taxi driver asked himself: What if this woman got an angry driver, or one who could not wait to finish his shift? What if I refused to fulfill her request, or, having honked a couple of times, left? What if…
He writes, “In the end, I would like to say that I have not done anything more important in my life.”
Our hearts may be black like coffee, but each day, we try to let a little of the light of God’s love and mercy out into the world.
It is Christmas Eve and you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with the Christ child in the manger.
As I pondered this season of Christmas, I came to the conclusion that Bethlehem is no longer confined to the borders of a small middle-eastern country. Instead, the world is Bethlehem, and the manger… the manger is wherever Christ is born. For the lady on the way to hospice, the manger was a taxi cab, and the Christ child was revealed to her in the person of a cab driver. The world is Bethlehem and perhaps there was no room at the inn, so that you… you… could choose the location of the manger, the place where the Christ child could be born and revealed to the world or to just one person in need of God’s love and mercy.
May we become those who are easily convicted of being God’s people. May the Christ child be born in us each. May we be the bearers of God’s love and mercy into all those we encounter.
Let us pray:
God of love, Father of all,
the darkness that covered the earth
has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh.
Make us a people of this light.
Make us faithful to your Word,
that we may bring your life to the waiting world.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.