The Year I Lived Christmas
By Daris Howard
It was Christmas Eve, and I was in New York, a long way from home. As we started our day, my associate, Mark, asked me what I had planned.
“The main thing is the church Christmas social tonight,” I replied.
“How about we live the real Christmas story as told in Matthew 25 verse 40 before we go?”
I knew the Christmas story wasn’t there, but he had an unusual seriousness about him, so I agreed.
“Good!” he said. “Get all of your spare cash.”
I hunted up $20 and put it in my wallet. Next he had me gather the leftover cookies and candy from my packages from home. Finally he asked if I had more than one coat. When I told him I had two, he told me to put one on and carry the other.
We stepped into the cold morning air, each of us carrying some bags and a second coat. We took the bus to the worst part of town, and walked a few blocks further. We came across a ragged looking man sitting by a building. Mark stopped in front of him. “Sir, are you hungry?”
The man looked up, a dullness in his eyes that seemed to question whether we were really speaking to him. Mark spoke again. “Could you use a loaf of bread?”
The man nodded, and Mark pulled food from his bag and handed it to him. The man ripped the package and hungrily stuffed three full slices into his mouth.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Mark asked.
The man just shrugged, so we turned and headed on our way. We walked down the street and stopped by a small corner store. Inside we could hear the manager forcefully say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything for you.”
We watched as the man he was speaking to dejectedly walked from the store. His coat was threadbare, and he was unshaven and grimy. “Your turn,” Mark said, nudging me forward.
Awkwardly I held out a loaf of bread. “Could you use some food?” I asked.
The man stopped. He started to reach out his hand and then pulled back. “I’m not a beggar. I was only asking for work to earn what I would eat.”
I was lost as to what to do next, so Mark stepped in. “And we are not just giving it to you. When you have an opportunity to help others, you can pay us back by doing something for someone else.”
The man nodded, and thankfully took the food I offered. We visited briefly while he ate, finding out that he had lost his job and his home. He wife and children were in a shelter, but men weren’t allowed there. Before leaving, I remembered the extra coat and wrapped it around his shoulders. He stopped eating long enough to hug me, tears streaming down his face.
As we continued on our way, I learned from Mark that at 17 he had had a fight with his father, and had run away. For two years he had lived on the streets until he could overcome his pride and return home. “Each year since then, I have done this, and I learned what the realChristmas story is,” he said
I told him I had heard some of those who begged weren’t as bad off as they pretended. He said it was true, and he knew men that begged for a living, making over a thousand dollars on some days. “Often a person has to seek out the ones that really need it. But I’d rather be guilty of giving to someone that didn’t need it than not giving to someone who did.”
We spent the day handing out food, stopping here and there to purchase more. As evening approached, and we turned to head home, I offered the last of my bread to an old man who sat huddled in a doorway. His eyes were sunken in and his face was thin. Shivering, he couldn’t speak as he nodded his thanks and started to eat. I wished I had something more. Then I thought of my coat lining. I zipped it out and wrapped it around his old shoulders.
As we turned to head home, I finally understood what Mark meant about living the real Christmas story. “And the King shall answer and say unto them,…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
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