The Christmas Guest

One of the greatest blessings of my life was to be the host of A.M. Sunday, a Gospel music radio show on KVRP in Haskell, Texas. I used to take requests, and every year at Christmas, I’d get requests for Grandpa Jones reading “The Christmas Guest.” The only problem was, I didn’t HAVE a copy of him doing that piece, and this was long before you could simply download the song from iTunes or pull it up on YouTube. But I DID have a version done by Reba McEntire, and I would play that. And I understood why people liked it so much, because I absolutely fell in love with it.

There have been many different versions of this story. This one was written by American poet Helen Steiner Rice, arranged by Grandpa Jones and Billy Walker. An older telling was by a French pastor and author, Ruben Saillens, and another by Leo Tolstoy.  They’re all based on the words of Jesus when He said, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

So whether you heard it back in the day on “A.M. Sunday,” or if this is your first encounter with this poem, I hope it blesses you as much as it always has me. And Merry Christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST

It happened one day near December’s end,
Two neighbors called on an old friend,
And they found his shop so meager and lean
Made gay with thousand bows of green.

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine,
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine,
And he said, “Old friends, at dawn today
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, ‘I’m coming your guest to be.’

“So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined

“Now I’ll wait for my Lord to appear,
And listen closely so I will hear His step
As He nears my humble place.
And I’ll open the door and look on His face.”

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since, his family had passed away,
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day.

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas Guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start.
And look for the Lord to be at his door,
Like the vision he’d had a few hours before.

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all he could see on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn,
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.

But Conrad was touched and he went to the door,
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
And a coat that will keep you warmer, too.”

So with grateful heart the man went away,
But Conrad noticed the time of day,
And wondered what made the Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait.

When he heard a knock, he ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more:
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest,
But that was reserved for Conrad’s Great Guest.

But her voice seemed to plead, “Don’t send me away!
Let me rest for a while on Christmas Day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup,
And told her to sit at the table and sup.

But after she left, he was filled with dismay,
For he saw that the hours were slipping away.
And the Lord hadn’t come as he said he would,
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.

When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me, and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door,
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.

Again, Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he should make the little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tears,
And quieted all her childish fears.

Then he led her back to her home once more.
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew the Lord was not coming today,
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did You delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much Your face to see.”

When soft in the silence a voice he heard,
“Lift up your head, for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor,
And three times I came to your lowly door.

“I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet;
And I was the woman you gave something to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, and three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best,
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”

The Christmas Guest

When I used to host my Sunday morning radio show, I had lots of requests for this reading during December. I’m not sure who wrote it. The earliest version I can find is a short story by the 19th century American author and poet Edwin Markham. The various poems and dramatic readings are listed as being written by Grandpa Jones, Mel Torme, Helen Steiner Rice, and others – nobody seems to know for sure. There’s a sense in which Jesus wrote it when He said, “Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brothers, ye did it unto Me.”

But regardless of who wrote it, re-reading it is one of my favorite things about Christmas, and I wanted to share it with you. Merry Christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST

It happened one day near December’s end
Two neighbors called on an old friend
And they found his shop so meager and lean
Made gay with thousand bows of green

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And he said, “Old friends, at dawn today
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, ‘I’m coming your guest to be’

“So I’ve been busy with feet astir
Strewing my shop with branches of fern
The table is spread and the kettle is shined
And over the rafters the holly is twined

“Now I’ll wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear His step
As He nears my humble place.
And I’ll open the door and look on His face”

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone
For this was the happiest day he had known
For long since, his family had passed away
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas Guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best
So he listened with only joy in his heart
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be at his door
Like the vision he had had a few hours before

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn

But Conrad was touched and he went to the door
And he said, “You know, your feet must be frozen and sore
I have some shoes in my shop for you
And a coat that will keep you warmer too”

So with grateful heart the man went away
But Conrad noticed the time of day
And wondered what made the Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait

When he heard a knock, he ran to the door
But it was only a stranger once more
A bent old lady with a shawl of black
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back
She asked for only a place to rest
But that was reserved for Conrad’s great Guest

But her voice seemed to plead “Don’t send me away
Let me rest for awhile on Christmas Day”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup

But after she left, he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away
And the Lord hadn’t come as he said he would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood

When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door
And stood disappointed as twice before
It was only a child who’d wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day

Again Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he should make the little girl glad
So he called her in and he wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears

Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door
He knew the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did You delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much Your face to see”

When soft in the silence a voice he heard
“Lift up your head for I kept my word
Three times my shadow crossed your floor
And three times I came to your lonely door

“I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet
And I was the woman you gave something to eat
I was the child on the homeless street
Three times I knocked and three times I came in
And each time I found the warmth of a friend
Of all the gifts, love is the best
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest”