The real meaning of Christmas

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Every year at Christmas, the Church places before us the details of the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem - how, one night, Joseph and Mary, not finding a room in the inn, took shelter in a cave and there, amidst its poverty, Mary gave birth to the Prince of Peace. Thereafter, shepherds went to pray homage to the royal Infant in response to the angel's invitation: "Do not be afraid ... For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord" (Lk 2:10-11).

Christmas is about the birth of the long promised and awaited Savior of humankind. Beyond that, Christmas means differently to different people. So the question "What is the real meaning of Christmas?" is valid. The story I will narrate to you shortly will reveal to us one real meaning of Christmas.

There once lived an old shoemaker who was loved and honored by his neighbors. They affectionately called him Father Martin.

One Christmas Eve, as he was reading of the Visit of the Wise Men to the Infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself, "If tomorrow was the First Christmas, I know what I would give Him!" He rose from his stool and took from a shelf two tiny shoes of soft snow-white leather, with silver buckles. "I would give Him these, my finest work!"

Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest. Hardly had he closed his eyes when he heard a voice call his name.... "Martin! Martin!" He felt that Jesus was calling him. Then the Voice spoke again, "Martin, you have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I shall pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I shall be your guest at your table."

Father Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before it was dawn, he rose and swept and tidied up his little shop. On the spotless table he placed a loaf of bread, a jar of honey and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea.

Then he patiently began to wait by the window.

Presently, he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing upon his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. "Poor fellow, he must be half frozen." thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him. "Come in, my friend, and warm up, and drink a cup of tea." And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.

An hour passed, and Martin saw a young miserably clothed woman carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old shoemaker was touched. Quickly, he flung open the door.

"Come in and get warm while you rest," he said to her. "You do not look well," he remarked.

"No, I am not well," she explained. "My husband is working overseas and I am ill, without any money."

"Poor child!" cried Father Martin. "You must eat something while you are getting warm. Then let me give a cup of milk to the little one. Ah! What a bright, pretty little fellow he is! Why, he has no shoes on him!"

"I have no shoes for him," sighed the mother sadly.

"Then he shall have this lovely pair that I finished yesterday." And Father Martin took down form the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes. He slipped them on the child's feet ... they fit perfectly. And shortly the poor young mother left, two coins in her hand and tearful with gratitude.

And Father Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear.

Suddenly, so it seemed to his weary eyes, the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the shoemaker's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said, "Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table!" Then they vanished.

At last, out of the silence, Father Martin heard again the gentle Voice: "Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me... For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt. 18:5; 25:35-40)

Thus ends one Christmas day in Father Martin's life. What does his story tell us about the real meaning of Christmas? Very simple. God's respect, concern, care, and love for each one of us and this, in view of our redemption - yesterday, today, tomorrow. How come? Because that was what the shepherds saw when the Father allowed His Son to be born for our salvation on the first Christmas night.