This Christmas day brings to mind two wintery moments that occurred at this time of year, both several years ago. Christmas gifts that, if one views them with the eyes of faith, were appearances of the Christ in the disguised formed of two different men in unexpected locations and without anticipation of what would transpire those days.
Tale one: On the Pike
There is a stretch of road between Wisconsin and Minnesota, local to my home, that is called “The Pike.” It is frequently travelled by thousands of cars, trucks and cycles every day. Nearly 15 years ago, a man living in Minnesota was driving a very old pickup truck nearing the Minnesota border as he was exiting Wisconsin. It was very cold that day, being toward the end of December, and he was thinking he was grateful for the well-functioning heater in the old truck as he was rounding a corner on the Pike. Unexpectedly, to his right he caught sight of a pedestrian walking toward Minnesota, shuffling quickly in the cold. He had no coat, no gloves and no hat. The driver pulled over at the nearest side road and turned around to wait for the man coming toward him. When he did, the driver rolled down the window (the blast of cold air startled him) and he called out the to walker, “You need a ride?” “Yes!” was the answer, so he had the man hop in the passenger side and they sped off. “Why are you walking in the cold with no coat, gloves or hat?” the driver asked. “I was at the casino down south of here all night. My family left me there. I am walking home to Winona.” the man answered. The driver thought to himself that the man must have gambled away everything he had and his family had become upset with him enough to leave him stranded. He said, “Well, I can take you across the river a few miles. You can warm up a bit on the way.” And so it happened. The drive was short, but long enough for the man to be warmed. He still had about a 20 mile walk if he were to make it home. When the driver pulled over on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi, the man got out and thanked the driver, who thought, “I can’t let that guy out in the cold without a coat.” So he took off the coat he had on and handed it to the man, saying, “Take it. I have another.” The last thing the driver remembers seeing was the man standing outside, putting that coat on and zipping it up. Since that time, the driver of that old truck has wondered if maybe Jesus had appeared to him in the disguise of a coatless gambler.
Tale two: Homeless on the Park Bench.
About five years ago, a man on Social Security disability was walking downtown, in the cold of December. This man, the walker, had a nice winter coat on that day, and no doubt he relished it because he had known what is was like to be homeless in the winter in the Midwest, but gratefully now had a warm apartment in which he was living. As he was walking past a city park, he saw a man laying on a park bench shivering from the cold. He had no coat. He walked over to the man and asked him his name and where he was from. The man said he was an alcoholic and he had no coat or money, and sought shelter at night and was on the street during the day. The walker told the man, “Wait here. I have a coat for you. I will return.” He returned as promised, handing the homeless man a beautiful new coat the walker had recently received, and said, “I know, my friend. I know. Take this.” Both the walker and the homeless one cried together.
Friends, these tales are true stories of actual people. I have not embellished them, but rather recount them as they were told to me. They are examples of fraternal love, solidarity with the poor, and acts of charity without judgment of another. They are true tale that express what happens at Christmas all over the world, but often go unnoticed or recognized. Some will say these are only encounters between four men that coincidentally met. Perhaps. I believe they were miraculous appearances of Jesus in our world.
Jesus always appears at Christmas, even though we recognize him not. Look for him in the disguise of the poor, the gambler, the alcoholic, the addict, the forgotten or the marginalized.