23 Dec A Christmas Story
by Deacon Dr. Bob McDonald
Chris Wilson was a highly successful executive in London, England. He and his wife Elizabeth had two children: an eighteen-year-old daughter Susan whom he adored and a brand-new baby boy, Christopher, who had come to them in their later years. They were a loving, happy family and life seemed perfect.
Then one Friday night, his daughter Susan said she was going to a party and asked if she could borrow Dad’s car. Thinking he could trust her, Chris said yes. Unfortunately, Susan got drunk. While driving herself home, she lost control of the car, slammed into a rock cut, and was killed instantly.
Chris could not be consoled. He bitterly blamed himself for letting her have the car. Soon afterwards, without a word to his wife, he walked out of the house and did not return.
He ended up being one of the hundreds of drop-outs, sleeping under bridges. He begged for what food he could get, often went hungry, and was very cold in the winter.
The other street people soon learned that whatever had happened to Chris, it was no use offering him a gulp of cheap wine. He hated alcohol with a terrible passion.
Every Christmas Eve, Chris went to a dilapidated Franciscan friary located in a slum district of Old London, and there the kindly pastor, Fr. Francis, would take him in and give him a hot meal by the fire and a place to sleep for the night.
For fifteen years he had been going there, and this particular Christmas Eve, he once more found himself knocking on the door of the friary. It was bitterly cold.
Fr. Francis opened the door and with a loving smile said, “Ah, Chris! How good to see you again! You always make my Christmas so special. Come in to the fire and warm yourself.”
Chris gladly slumped into the deep easy chair by the fire.
Fr. Francis bustled in the kitchen and soon returned with some bread and a bowl of piping hot soup, which Chris gratefully ate.
Fr. Francis watched him happily. He had often wondered why Chris had landed on the streets, but he knew street people enough never to ask such a question.
This time, however, to his great surprise, Chris suddenly looked up at him and said, “Father, I’ve been coming here for fifteen years, every Christmas Eve, and not once have you ever asked me about my former life. I think I owe it to you to tell you.”
So he poured it all out. Tears appeared in his eyes as he spoke, and Fr. Francis could not stop his own tears as he listened.
With a final choking cry, Chris sobbed, “The worst thing is not that I am guilty for giving Susan the car that night, but that she died so suddenly and she died drunk. I fear she may be in hell.”
Fr. Francis tried to console him, but it was no use. After a while he gave up, and they both just sat and stared at the fire.
Close to midnight, Fr. Francis excused himself and said he had to go and pray before Mass. Chris didn’t go to Mass anymore, and so he stayed by the fire with his own thoughts.
A little after midnight, the door to the room quietly opened and in came a lovely young woman, very poorly dressed, carrying a baby in her arms.
Absorbed in his own thoughts, Chris didn’t take much notice of her as she sat down in the chair opposite him.
She crooned over her baby for a little while. Then she looked at Chris and said, “Would you like to hold him for a bit? He loves to be held.”
Chris jerked up upon hearing this startling offer. After all, he had long dirty hair and a long, tangled beard and was wearing an old ragged jacket. Most people were suspicious and afraid of him.
He looked into the woman’s eyes and all he saw was tenderness and trust. It gave him a strange feeling to notice that this woman looked to be about the same age as Susan was when she was killed. She reminded him of her.
Without realizing what he was doing, he put out his arms and took the baby onto his lap.
“What is his name?” he asked.
“He’s called Joshua,” the woman replied, and she spoke the name as though it was the sweetest sound in the world.
Chris looked down at the baby, and the little one was gazing right into his eyes. Joshua stretched up a tiny hand and Chris let him grasp his finger. The touch struck a deep chord within his broken heart.
As he looked into the innocent face, he remembered the baby son he had abandoned and felt a pang of longing.
Joshua smiled and Chris felt a powerful wave of love begin to burn in his chest, and from there it spread throughout his whole body.
He just knew that he was loved by this baby Joshua, and yes, also by this lovely young woman. It was more than he could understand. Love was something he had deliberately killed over the years. His companion was called despair, and this was more than he could handle.
Gently, he handed Joshua back to his mother and said, “I must go to the kitchen and get a drink of water.” The lady just smiled.
Once in the kitchen, he stood leaning on the counter totally confused.
“I don’t want to love,” he thought. “It’s too painful.”
He felt the hot tears beginning to well up. “No,” he said to himself through clenched teeth. “I must not love. Love and pain are the same thing.”
With great effort he pulled himself together and went back into the parlor. The woman and baby were gone.
Some time later, he heard Fr. Francis coming in through the door which connected the rectory and the church, so he went to him and told him what had happened.
Fr. Francis looked very thoughtful and said, “Chris, nobody could have come in here. I securely locked the front door.”
He went and checked the door to make sure. Yes, it was still locked.
“So, no one left the house either, Chris.”
Chris was stunned. “I didn’t imagine it,” he thought. “I couldn’t have imagined the love of that baby. I don’t even know anybody named Joshua. Why would I think up that name?”
Fr. Francis walked over to an end table and picked up a piece of paper which had not been there before. It had Chris’ name on it.
Silently he handed it to Chris who with a puzzled look opened it up.
Written there were these words: “Chris, your daughter Susan is well. She is happy with God. When the car went out of control, she managed to call for the mercy of Jesus before she died.”
The note was signed, “Love, Miriam and Joshua.”
Chris began to tremble all over. How could this lady have known about Susan?
He showed Fr. Francis the note. Fr. Francis pondered it and said, “Chris, it is time for a fifteen-year long overdue confession.”
Chris quietly nodded and knelt down.
He poured out his self-hatred, his need for self-forgiveness, and above all his hatred of God for taking Susan away from him. As he confessed, he felt the hardness of heart draining away, and into the vacuum there seemed to pour waves of the thing he feared and desired the most. He knew it was love returning in triumph.
After it was over, Chris said, “Father, I’m going home. What do I have to lose?”
Fr. Francis smiled and said, “God be with you, Chris, but I should tell you something before you go. That paper was signed by Miriam and Joshua. These are the Hebrew names for Mary and Jesus.”
Chris stood there stunned. Slowly he began to grasp what had happened and the wonderful Christmas gift he had just received.
He left the rectory, and it was three o’clock by the time he reached his old house in a more decent part of the city.
He thought it strange that the lights were still on. Shaking inside, he rang the doorbell.
A teenage boy opened the door, took one look at Chris, and shouted, “Mum, Dad has come home.”
Christ couldn’t believe it. This must be his son, but how could he possibly know his father?
Elizabeth ran into his arms and covered him with tears and kisses. After some of the excitement died down, Chris asked, “Son, how did you know it was me at the door?”
His son said, “Why, this young lady with the baby who came here tonight asking for a meal, she told me you would come. I don’t know how she knew, but I couldn’t help but believe her. You should have seen her baby, Dad; he was so beautiful. His name was Joshua.”
Elizabeth then asked, “Would you like to open your Christmas present now, Chris?”
He looked at her and said, “What present? When Miriam told you I was coming, it was after midnight. The stores were all closed.”
“Oh,” said Elizabeth, “Every year for fifteen years, I have bought you a Christmas present. I put it under the tree, and I prayed to the Blessed Mother that she would keep you safe and that one day you’d come back to us. I never stopped believing.”
Chis put his arms around Elizabeth and his son and said, “Forgive me for my despair. Forgive me for all the hurt I have inflicted on you both. I feel love again. I have been dead, but Mary and Jesus have given me life once more.”
Elizabeth picked up a rosary and pointed to a picture of Mother Mary holding the Child Jesus.
So Chris, Elizabeth, and their son knelt down and gave thanks for the love and the mercy of God. They also prayed that they would never be separated again.
The author, a deacon and physician, is our friend and neighbor.