The Christmas Guest

One of my favorite things about Christmas is the chance to re-visit things from the past that I have enjoyed before. This poem certainly fits in that category.

When I used to host “A.M. Sunday,” my Sunday morning radio show, I used to get requests for this reading. 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. 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 is one of my favorite things about Christmas, and I wanted to share it with you again. 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”

The Secret of Christmas

(I’d like to dedicate this blog to my late father-in-law, Frank Rolens. Frank was a wonderful, gentle, Godly man, a great father and husband, a terrific father-in-law and friend. December 16 was his birthday, and he absolutely loved Barbershop singing and the Vocal Majority, so I’m posting this in his honor.)

Back in 1982, radio station KVIL in Dallas released the first of what would become a series of Christmas recordings. This album, and later CDs, contained some really beautiful Christmas songs – some old favorites, some newer material – and featured artists from the D/FW and North Texas area.

One of my favorites was a recording by the Vocal Majority of “The Secret of Christmas.” I had never heard the song before, but it turns out it was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for Bing Crosby to sing in the 1959 movie, “Say One for Me.” Besides Der Bingle, the song has been covered by numerous artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews and Johnny Mathis, but the VM’s version remains my favorite.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Vocal Majority, they are a men’s chorus of about 150 guys who sing in classic “Barbershop” harmony. They are based in Dallas, and have won numerous international singing competitions.

My preacher, David McQueen, has been talking in his recent sermons about the true “Spirit” of Christmas, and the idea that the best of what we call “The Christmas Spirit” – joy, generosity, hope, surrounding yourself with loved ones – are qualities that Christians ought to embody throughout the entire year. That certainly fits with this song.

So here are the lyrics for “The Secret of Christmas,” along with a YouTube recording of the VM singing it. Do yourself a favor and watch this video. Let their gorgeous harmonies wash over you.

And may we all remember the secret, all year through.

It's not the glow you feel
 When snow appears
 It's not the Christmas card
 You've sent for years
Not the joyful sound
 When sleigh bells ring
 Or the merry songs
 Children sing
The little gift you send
 On Christmas day
 Will not bring back the friend
 You've turned away
So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas
 Is not the things you do at Christmas time 
 But the Christmas things you do
 All year through