The Last Person I Would Want At My Christmas Party
The other day I had a dream. I dreamed I was having a wonderful Christmas party at my house. The Christmas tree was glorious. It reached all the way to the coiling, topped by a brand new angel. The Moravian Star was shining on the side porch. A warm fire was blazing in the fireplace. The aroma of apple cider with cloves and cinnamon was spreading through the whole house. Music from the Messiah was drifting through the house. Children were playing upstairs: not too noisy, nor too quiet, but just right. And downstairs was full of friends and neighbors enjoying each other's company.
And then the doorbell rang. I went to the door with a pleasant smile, which suddenly disappeared, because there at the door was one of the rattiest human beings I had ever seen. He was smelly and dusty. He hadn't had a haircut or a shave for months, maybe years. He wore some kind of animal skin outfit hold together with a leather belt, but held together just barely, for it looked like his clothes were molting. He said it was camel's hair. He smelled so bad he reminded me of places I didn't want to think of right then. He said, "Hi Doug, remember me?"
"Uh, no can't say that I do."
"Sure you do, Doug, you've been reading my stuff all week. You read it every year about this time. Remember this? 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled...' People in the house began looking toward us.
"Shhh! Not so loud! You think you're John the Baptist?"
He walked on past me into the party. Everyone fell silent. He walked over to the refreshments. I followed him. He was looking for something, but having trouble finding it.
With an icy voice, I said, "May I help you?"
"Yeah, you got any honey?"
I pulled a jar of honey from the cabinet. "Here, now you can be on your way."
He didn't hear me. He was still looking for something. "You know, a few locusts would be perfect with this."
I said, "Sorry, we just ran out." He found some cheese doodles instead, evidently the closest thing to locusts available, and dipped them into the honey, and ate them. "Mmmmm. This'll do."
I decided that this had gone on long enough, so I said, "Look, John, or whoever you are, I don't remember you being invited to this party, so if you'll just..."
Picking a cheese doodle out of his board, he said, "Don't worry. I tend to come by surprise anyway. Goodness knows my mother Elizabeth and my father Zechariah were surprised. They were sipping Geritol long before I came along. When Dad first heard Mom was pregnant, he was speechless!"
A sweet lady was listening and decided to try to help me out with this stranger. She said, "Let me introduce myself: my name is Bessie. Dr. Murray let me sneak into his nice party even though I go to the Methodist church. And what denomination are you?" John picked another cheese doodle off his beard, and said, "I tell you, God is able from these choose doodles to raise up Methodists and Baptists." The sweet lady dropped her jaw.
John turned his back on us and started walking through my house. He poked into rooms I had shut off and closets I had closed where I had crammed junk and trash out of the way for the party. Somehow he had a nose for the very things you wanted to hide. I had a sinking feeling that that was how he looked at all my party guests…and at me. It was as if somehow he was looking not at us but deep within us, as if he could see the hidden things within us, just like he had found the junk in my house that I hadn't cleaned up yet.
I tried to distract him: "So, uh, JOHN, how do you like the party?"
He looked at me with utter disdain. "This is a PARTY? You call THIS a party? This is nothing but a snake pit…a BROOD OF VIPERS!"
I said, "That's it, whoever you are! Get out of my house or I'm calling the cops."
He said, "You still don't get it, do you? You've been reading me all these years at Christmastime and you still don't get it."
"That this puny snake pit of a party is nothing compared to the party God is gonna put on. And the party God is going to throw will snuff out all your little soirees."
"What are you telling me?"
"I'm telling you that God has had it with all your talk and no action. You're the tree, and God's got the ax pointed right at your trunk. And every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. It's time to REPENT. It time to BEAR FRUITS WORTHY OF REPENTANCE! His shout reverberated through every room in my house. Everyone in the house froze. There was not a sound. My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest.
Then the sweet Methodist lady named Bessie looked at John. The polite sweetness in her face was gone. She stared a fierce stare, and then a tear rolled out of one eye, sprang free, and hit the floor. She asked him, "What then should we do?" He said, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise."
Another guest, a newly elected state legislator, asked, "What should we do?" John told him, "Don't base taxes on the greed of those in a position to extract them." Another guest, a policeman, asked, "And we, what should we do?" John said, "Be fair about how you use your power--never to threaten or to scare." And on and on, businessmen and teachers, carpenters and truck drivers, we all asked, "What should we do?"
John led us out the door and walked us through the city. We saw our town as we had never seen it before. We saw where homeless people slept in doorways and in alloys. We peeked into houses and apartments where families split their last box of macaroni for supper. We watched young people in cars and trucks drive up and down Ehringhaus Street, back and forth and back and forth, looking for, please God, some excitement in their lives for a change. We walked through nursing homes where lonely people sat motionless or walked aimlessly down the halls. We also pocked into other parties in homes and in churches and in lodges, where the well fed and the well clothed and well protected enjoyed their blessings completely oblivious to the pain around them in the town. We saw clearly now injustices we had taken for granted. We saw how a religion that was empty of moral and ethical action was exactly that, empty. We saw how so much of our religion was mere self-congratulation, how we talked so much and did so little.
Then John took us back where we started, back into the house. "Now you see why I called this a snake pit instead of a party. If you want to have a REAL party, then come clean, and come empty, and receive the gift of God. If you want to have a real party, then share your blessings, do justice, and use your powers with fairness. All our parties are in the shadow of Christ's ultimate party, Christ's coming.
Then John said, "Got ready. Bear fruits worthy of repentance. One who is more powerful than I is coming. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will sort through the fruitful and the empty, like (he was) threshing wheat and chaff. The wheat he'll gather into his granary. But the chaff? He'll BURN." John grinned. "I always enjoy bringing good news." Then he picked up my jar of honey and grabbed the last bag of choose doodles and went out the door, and disappeared into the night.
Prayer: O Dear God, before you we can bring no credentials or accomplishments that amount to anything. Forgive us for religion that is self-congratulation and for faith that is all talk but all empty. Help us to share our blessings and serve others before ourselves. Help us bear good fruit of integrity and ministry, so that when your Son arrives, He will include us in his harvest, rather than burn us in the trash. Cultivate in us the true spirit of Christmas, not only at this time, but in all times. In Christ, Amen.
Doug Murray Elizabeth City, NC