Saturday 17 February 2018

God makes no distinctions, embracing the least likely

A woman tells the following story about the true meaning of Christmas, discovered in the most unlikely of encounters: 'It was Christmas Eve and my husband and I, along with our children, were driving to my parent's place where we would spend Christmas that year.

'We stopped for lunch along the way and pulled into a remote restaurant on the edge of a town we were driving through. The restaurant was nearly empty, we were the only family, and ours were the only children. As we were reading the menus, I heard Eric, our one-year-old boy, squealing with glee "Hi there". His face was alive with excitement, his eyes were wide, gums bared in a toothless grin.

'He wriggled and giggled, and then I saw the source of his merriment. A tattered rag of a coat, obviously bought by someone else years ago, dirty, greasy and worn; baggy pants; spindly body, toes that poked out of would-be shoes; a shirt that was threadbare; and a face like no other. "Hi there baby. Hi there, big boy, I see ya, buddy"

'My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between 'what do we do now' and 'poor devil'. Our meal came and the interaction between the old tramp and Eric continued, with the old bum shouting across the room "Do you know patty-cake? Atta boy. Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look! He knows peek-a boo!"

'Eric continued to laugh and answer "Hi there". Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband was humiliated. Even our six year old said, "Why is that old man talking so loud?"

My husband went to pay the bill, and I picked up Eric and bolted for the door. As I passed the man I turned my back, walking to sidestep him and any air that he might be breathing. As I did so, Eric, all the time with his eyes riveted to his new friend, leaned over my arm, reaching up with both arms in a baby's pick-me-up position.

'In a split-second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye-to-eye with the old man. Eric was lunging for him, arms spread wide. The bum's eyes both asked and implored, "would you let me hold your baby?" There was no need for me to answer since Eric propelled himself from my arms to the man. Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship.

'Eric laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. T the man's eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath the lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain and hard labour, gently, so gently, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back. I stood awestruck.

'The old man rocked and cradled Eric in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. "You take care of this baby" he said. He pried Eric from his chest, unwillingly, longingly, as though he was in pain. I held my arms open to receive my baby, and again the gentleman addressed me: "God bless you, ma'am. You've given me my Christmas gift." I said nothing more than I'm muttered 'thanks'. With Eric in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband wondered why I was crying and holding Eric so tightly. And why I was saying, "My God, forgive me. Forgive me."

I would like to suggest that the real meaning of Christmas is in this story. Simply put, Eric is God. Simply put, the tramp is us. Eric is God's yearning and passion for us tattered bums with our tattered lives, our tattered hearts, our tattered relationships, and are tattered sins. God is Eric's two arms determined to hug us. God is a fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but would embrace the least likely – you and me.

New Ross Standard

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