For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)
One of the classic Christmas story poems from the 19th Century is Edwin Markham’s How the Great Guest Came. It’s about Conrad, a cobbler in a European village who had a dramatic dream in which Christ appeared and told him He was going to visit his shop the following day. The dream felt so real that Conrad got up early the next morning, swept his shop clean, made bread for the Lord, shined the shelves, placed holly on the rafters, and waited for His arrival.
By late morning the Lord had not come. Conrad was watching out for Him when an old beggar with injured feet hobbled by. Deeply moved by the man’s plight, he invited him in and made a fine pair of shoes for him. Grateful that the Lord had not come during this time, Conrad said goodbye to the old man and cleaned up his shop. He waited, but still the Lord did not come.
At noon, Conrad heard a soft knock and rushed to the door. But it was an old woman carrying a load of sticks. “Sir, I’ve heard that you are a kind man. Could I have something to eat?” He didn’t have it in his heart to turn her away. Inviting her in, Conrad gave the old woman all he had – the bread he’d baked for the Lord.
The afternoon passed and Conrad began to doubt that the Lord would come. Then another knock on the door and expectation leaped within him. But this time it was a lost and fearful child. He shared his milk and took the child home to his mother. Then rushing back to his shop he was relieved to find the Lord had not come while he was away. And, he waited . . .
“The day went down in the crimson west and with it the hope of the blessed guest,
And Conrad sighed as the world turned gray: ‘Why is it Lord, that your feet delay?
Did you forget that this was the day?’
Then soft in the silence a Voice he heard: ‘Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door. Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet; I was the woman you gave something to eat;
I was the child in the homeless street.’”