I was the messenger, stopping by the home of a formerly homeless pair on a chilly December morning. But just as I crossed the threshold, I was struck by a wild configuration of evergreen, bushing and bowing like no holiday tree I had ever seen.
“Oh, a Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” I thought.
But then I looked more closely. A slender stem speared up the center. And just where the branches would have have resided, a single crossbow settled across the middle. Lights wound their way to the top, while an array of recycled ho-ho gear twisted throughout the greenery.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Ya like it?!” one roommate proudly proclaimed. “We didn’t have enough branches for a Christmas tree, but we had enough for a cross.”
“That’s the reason for the season after all, isn’t it?” the other roommate asked.
Stopped in my tracks,I wasn’t sure what to say. This wasn’t a particularly religious pair. They were, in fact, more likely to find themselves unworthy of the church’s love, particularly that of Christ himself. So undeserving did they once feel that it took many years before they’d accept the opportunity for housing. Someone else always needed it more, they perceived.
Both had been homeless since teenagers; one had lost track of her parents so long ago that she didn’t even remember their names. It had become “normal” for her to sleep outside.
Cleaning meant nothing more than keeping critters away. Laundry was wearing the same outfit so long that it needed to be tossed out. Dining out was the regular evening meal ata free community dinner, and cooking was the occasional “hobo” stew over a propane stove.
But slowly and surely, we coaxed them both into a rental situation wrapped with supportive services. We fended off the other folks who moved themselves into this home; it happens a lot when someone has lived outside fora long time and can’t bear the thought of letting perfectly good floor space go to waste.
We battled the pests, when the cleaning habits fell short of indoor living. And as income became possible for them, we planned out meals with the $35 left over after their bills every week.
Far had they come, and far did they still have to go. But I couldn’t help but stand at the foot of their cross in amazement. Not once had we had a conversation about Jesus. Not once had we discussed salvation. Not once hadwe even invited them to church. Yet somehow in their hearts the message was already there.
“What is it that you know about the cross?” I asked one of the roommates.
“I know that I don’t always do what I should do to deserve what happened on the cross,” she said. “And for a long time I thought that’s why God wasn’t looking out for me. But then He helped me find this house and start over and I knew that had to mean something.”
Far too often, folks at Micah feel that they are undeserving of God’s love for His people. The gift of Christ seems so far out of reach when you believe you have nothing to give.
At times they feel punished, unworthy and wildly unprepared to receive what seems to be offered up only for everyone else. Then again, who is really ready to understand the gift God gave to all of us?
If you are like me, you never feel prepared for the arrival of the holiday season. So too was the world we live in as it awaited the birth of the baby Jesus. Mary could not have prepared for a virgin birth; neither were the shepherds ready for the angel’s announcement. And in no way was the undeserving and un-expecting civilization at the time braced to experience the steadfast love of God here on Earth.
Leaving the house that day, I beamed with a new message in my heart. We can prepare all we want for Christmas morning. We can shop. We can wrap. We can tie pretty bows and stress ourselves out.
But guess what?
Christ has already come, and if we look closer into the season we will realize he’s been there all along. In the words of our Micah guest, even when we don’t have much, we do have the cross.