Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Christmas Guest

This week I had the privilege of playing the piano for a Christmas carol service at a local retirement home. I have visited this particular facility regularly for at least 15 years and have come to know several of the residents quite well. Many suffer from chronic illnesses and various degrees of disability that make it difficult to get out and about. Others have no family to visit them at special times of the year and the staff, volunteers and those who live there become family to them.

The carol service is always well attended and participation is enthusiastic and heart-felt. Peter, pictured above with Amy, led the singing and Amy recited from memory this poem by Helen Steiner Rice. While it is not new, it does illustrate the true meaning of Christmas. A number of artists have recorded The Christmas Guest and I have added Andy Griffith's version at the end of the post. If you have five minutes and a fast enough connection, listen to the story while you read the words.

It happened one day at the year's white end,
Two neighbors called on an old-time friend

And they found his shop so meager and mean,
Made gay with a thousand boughs of green,

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine

And 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 am 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,

And now I will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear

His step as He nears my humble place,
And I open the door and look in 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 has spent a sad Christmas Day.

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best,

And 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 standing there
In answer to his earnest prayer

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all that he saw on the snow-covered ground

Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.

So Conrad was touched and went to the door
And he said, "Your feet must be frozen and sore,

And 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 as Conrad noticed the time of day

He wondered what made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he'd have to wait,

When he heard a knock and ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more,

A bent, old woman with a shawl of black,
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 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 passing away

And the Lord had not 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 this little child glad,

So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted her childish fears.

Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door,

He knew that 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--
Three times I came to your lonely door--

For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet,
I was the woman you gave to eat,
And 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.

Helen Steiner Rice


Christmas Guest, The (The Christmas Guest Album Version) - Andy Griffith

13 comments:

  1. I love that song--it always makes me think of late night car rides driving somewhere for Christmas and listening to the radio. It was so nice of you to play for the rest home, they must have loved it. Merry Christmas.

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  2. That was lovely. Very profound lyrics.

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  3. How kind that you did that for the residents there Ruth. I know they were all very touched.

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  4. Thanks for sharing that poem and song.It makes me think,wondering if I have been too busy to recognize Christ when He came to my door.
    Blessings,Ruth

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  5. How wonderful that you are able to provide music for the residents. My mother-in-law spent the last five years of her life in a long term care facility. We visited her at least 3 times a week and brought her to our house often. Yet she so looked forward to guests who played music for them.

    Nice reflection on the Christmas Guest.

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  6. That was a great poem, and it was a great idea to play the video clip while reading the poem.

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  7. I loved this post Ruth and so perfect for the season...

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  8. Brought tears to my eyes, Ruth. Thanks.

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  9. I got goosebumps reading that poem. It was beautiful and so appropriate for the season.
    Nice of you to spread a little cheer to the residents. I am sure they enjoyed your playing and the singing very much.

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  10. Mexico Mom8:46 pm GMT-5

    What a wonderful Christmas post! I have heard a similar legend but have never seen the poem before.
    We leave this paradise spot just 144 kilometers from home on the Pacific coast but worlds away in many ways, We have met many fine people that come here at Christmas time to help the poor children. We return tomorrow for 7 Christmas posadas to have games, piñatas and candies for children in villages with almost nothing. They are so happy to see us come. Your nursing home music is a real ministry. At any time of year it is needed.

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  11. A most timely reminder. Very reminiscent of Matthew 25.

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  12. I know this story as "Poppa Panov's Special Day". Our grade 1 Sunday School Class put it on as a Christmas play one year ... it was a big hit ... but not as big a hit as the year we put on "The Tale of Three Trees".

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  13. I love that poem, and I love hearing Andy Griffith recite it. Thanks, Ruth, for sharing it with all of us.

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