Two thousand years, but still no room at the inn…
A steady drizzle fell, and the early-evening pavements glistened like a freshly-oiled bodybuilder. Alice didn’t notice. Being five, she was captivated by the lights, sounds and smells of the Christmas market. But her Grandad Ron turned his back on the sights and sounds of commercialism and saw something else which made him think of the Christmas story. Here he explains to his son Ollie what happened…
“Goodwill to all men is a fine sentiment, Ollie, but we don’t believe it, do we? This is supposed to be the time when, for once in the year, we’re reminded to be kind to others, and we wish them all a ‘merry Christmas’ – but they’re just words… we don’t really care, do we?
“Though why we should help others more at this time of year is beyond me. Shouldn’t we have charity in our hearts all year round anyway?
Ollie was nonplussed at his father’s outburst. “Where did that come from, Dad? You just took Alice to the Christmas market in town to see the lights and meet Santa, and get into the festive spirit. She seems really revved up about it; not that she needs any revving up,” he added, a little ruefully.
“Oh, we saw all that, Ollie. She met Santa, and she saw the stalls selling sweets and tree baubles and all kinds of ornaments, the lights and the magic, and all of that – but I saw something that passed her by completely, I’m pleased to say.”
Ollie raised his eyebrows in question.
“There was a man sitting on a bench at the side of the road. In the rain. Clearly homeless. Everything he owned in a supermarket trolley. He was completely outside the festive bubble happening just a few yards away. There was no festive spirit for him, and unlikely to be any, either.”
No room at the inn
The older man warmed to his topic. “In the Christian Christmas story there’s no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. We tell that same story over and over, but we never learn anything from it, do we? If we had done, there would be room for the guy on the bench, and he’d be included – but there isn’t, and he wasn’t. I suppose he was only on a bench because we don’t go in much for stables in towns anymore.
“I don’t know why he was living on a bench, with his world in a shopping trolley. In a way it doesn’t matter. It’s none of my business. What is my business is that he deserves more than to be ignored and forgotten. If everyone at that Christmas market, and it was packed with people, had given him just 5p, it would have been life changing, at least for a little while. But they didn’t. I didn’t. And I’m ashamed that I chose to ignore him.
“In a world where there is so much, it’s just wrong that so many people have so little. They have the same human rights to a little dignity, but the way society works denies them those rights. I find that deeply disturbing.”
He tipped his head forward and stared into the mug of coffee that Ollie had thrust into his hands as he spoke. Ollie looked at him in silence, then said softly: “The world isn’t a fair place, Dad, and you can’t change it.”
Giving back to society
“Oh, I understand that son; I understand that very well. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. We should all try. If we could all try just a little, together we would be change makers; we would be giving back; giving back to society something that makes it a society. It’s a feeling of sharing, of getting a warm glow from helping someone when there is no reason for us to do so except that they need help. Making someone happy gives you a good feeling inside. There’s no reason the person receiving the help has to be known to us. And if this time of the year isn’t the time for doing that, then I don’t know of a better one.”
Ron pulled his shoulders back and reached for his coat. “I’m going back, Ollie. I’m going back to see if I can find the man from the bench, and I’m going to talk to him and buy him a glass of mulled wine and one of those monster German sausage hot dogs. I’m going to make a difference to his life, at least for tonight. I can’t change his life, but I can stop him being lonely, and make him happier for a while. That has to be the best gift I can give anyone this Christmas time.”
Ollie smiled. “That’s fantastic, Dad. Can I come too?”
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