Access today’s readings. Psalm 146, 147; Psalm 111, 112, 113; Amos 1:1-5,13-2:8; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; Luke 21:5-19
A reflection from the Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff.
Martin was a cobbler who lived in a small village in Russia a century ago. He was a tired, bitter old man. His wife and young son died half his life ago and he never forgave God. In his anger, he chose a life of solitude, seeing no one except the customers who came to his shop to have shoes made or repaired.
One winter evening, a holy man came to the shop carrying a large, beautiful and very old book. The leather cover was worn from years of loving use. The binding was tattered. The Holy man asked Martin if he could repair it. Martin felt honored and awed by the task and accepted humbly. That night, before going to bed, Martin opened the book to see if it was as beautiful inside as it was outside. His eyes were drawn to the page and he began to read. But as often happened to him, he dozed off while he read. Just then, another visitor appeared and a voice said, “Martin, the Lord will visit you tomorrow.”
Martin got up from the table and went to bed where he slept more soundly than he had in years. He awoke refreshed, light and spry, filled with childlike joy. He went about his daily tasks with excited anticipation.
Just after breakfast, Martin heard steps outside. “Could it be he?” he asked. No, it was just Vladimir who shoveled the streets every morning. But how cold he looked. Martin had never noticed that before. He opened the door and invited Vladimir in, had him sit by the fire and gave him a cup of hot tea. Before sending him out again, Martin looked at the fur cap that had belonged to his father and should have been passed to his son. He took it down from the peg on the wall where it had hung all those years and put it on Vladimir’s head.
Later in the morning, Martin heard footsteps again. “Could that be he?” he asked. No, it was only a young woman carrying a baby.
“But she has no shawl,” Martin exclaimed. “The baby will freeze!” He threw the door open, called the woman in and sat her by the fire. He gave her hot soup to eat while he played with the baby. Before sending her out into the cold again, he looked at the thick, warm shawl that had belonged to his wife when she herself was a young mother of their child. He carefully took it down from the peg on the wall where it had hung all those years and put it on the woman’s shoulders.
The day wore on. Martin kept busy but always alert. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, he heard a sound. “Could it be he at last?” Martin wondered aloud. No, it was the old woman who lived up on the hill, pulling a sled with supplies for the week. But how meager they looked – not nearly enough to sustain the woman and her sick husband whom she cared for so lovingly. Martin went to his own pantry, filled a sack with supplies, and without saying a word put it on the old woman’s sled.
Late that night, Martin was in despair. The Lord hadn’t come and his disappointment felt like bitter rejection. She sat at the table beside the holy book. “It was only a dream after all,” Martin thought. Then he dozed off. “But I did come,” a voice said. Startled awake, Martin cried, “When, Lord, when did I see you?” Then Martin saw the face of Vladimir, of the young woman and her baby, of the old woman who lived on the hill. “I came to you with the face of the cold, the poor, the hungry – and whatever you did for them, you did for me.”
Martin lived a changed life after that. Everyday he lived awake, alert, aware, alive to Christ who comes every day. May we, this Advent season, learn to do the same. Amen.