That year all of us came to understand what it means to have been put out of an inn, only to be sheltered by the hearts of those who care enough to share.
"I will bring you another blanket."
With that, I left the church and went to my parsonage nearby. One more blanket should do it.
"Greg, when you leave in the morning," I told him, "make sure you turn out the lights. I have been finding them on when I come over here in the morning. I'm trying to save on electricity. The church folk are not rich, you know."
Greg smiled, understanding that he did have a habit of forgetting to turn out lights in his one-room shelter. He also had a habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink in the church kitchen downstairs. Furthermore, he usually forgot to turn down the thermostat when going off to work each morning.
I guess that's part of being in your early twenties, I mused as I left this fellow.
How could parents put their child out at Christmas? That was one question that was eating away at my heart ever since he came to me, his pastor, and had knocked on my parsonage door.
The next day I twisted my master key into the lock, opened the door into his room. and found that he had done just as I had asked —lights off, heat turned down. But those crusty dishes were still in the sink.
I had better clean up this mess before the women of the church come in here to complain.
Then I scolded myself for putting my irritation onto the women. They knew his plight. T knew down deep that there would be no complaining. They, too, had sons.
"How is it that they told you to leave?" I had asked him when he wandered into my living room that desperately cold night.
"They said that they had it with me being a Christian. At first I thought they were taking to this new life of mine. But then, flip. It had turned the other way." He looked down at the carpet, hardly able to take it in that his own mother and father had sent him packing. Where else could he go? There were no relatives nearby. Then he thought of the church. He would go there. And so here he was on my front doorstop—his suitcase pressed against his side.
"You can use the restrooms--shave, bathe. You can use the church kitchen to make your meals. Sometimes we will invite you over for supper. How's that? And there is your own thermostat. It heats up just the room off the sanctuary," I pointed out all the "conveniences" of being turned out into the cold at Christmas.
"Of course, the sanctuary is a good place for you to go in quiet, getting your thoughts together," I suggested. Greg was a student of the Word. Since becoming a believer, he could not get enough of the Scriptures.
"Some of my personal study books are on the shelves around the corner," I told him. "Take your pick. Enjoy!" I tried to be cheery, though it was not all that easy talking to a young man who was bunking out in a side room of the church. Yes, it was the house of God. But on cold, wintry nights it was also a lonely place to walk into all yourself. Creaks sounded in the night. Radiators croaked—some at odd hours.
"Just don't get caught in the restroom taking a sponge bath when someone with a key decides to case the place," I said, chuckling.
He was game. What else was left? He had finished college and come back home to make some money so he could pay off some bills. And now this.
"How can my parents turn their own son out like this?" he asked me one especially empty evening.
"It is hard to answer that one," I shrugged, not wanting to appear too serious. I figured that if we moved on to another subject, the pain might not linger.
On Sunday the congregation was told gently of Greg's plight.
When the worship service ended, people needed no prodding in getting their heads and hearts together. In short order, whisperings on behalf of goodwill toward the young man were filling the halls. It was coming up to the Sunday just before the Big Day. We were going to enjoy our fellowship meal after the morning service.
"Has the box been decorated?" someone asked. I assured this lady that Marie had everything in place, and that it was hidden from Greg's view.
"Where do we put the presents?"
"Over there, behind the table. get them later and put them in the box so that everything will be put together."
What fun it was to poke about, doing things in secret when it all added up to ways in which we could warm this young man's heart.
"Good morning, Greg," I called out to him as he left his one-room abode to join the rest of us for Bible class.
"Good morning to you, Pastor," he replied, cheerily.
Greg had been invited to his parents' for Christmas Day. Would he go? He had said he would go. Why? "To show them that I love them in spite of what they have done to me." Fine. Then go. I wondered what they would wrap and put under the tree for their son-put-out-of-their-home-because-of-his-faith. But today, the celebration was with the Lord's people at the church. It was time to eat dinner.
The meal was eaten with relish. Such delicious, tasty dishes!
"Now?" Sally asked as she tugged at my coat.
"Now," I whispered back. A huge box was brought to the center of the fellowship hall.
It was not easy to get Greg's attention when he was eating!
"Greg! We have something special for you today. Here are some presents we have wrapped and brought here just for you. May this be a blessed Christmas after all."
The young man—not all that tall—rose to extra height with happiness as he eagerly moved toward the pile of gifts, each one tagged with his name. One by one he lifted them, felt their shapes, and gently shook them while holding them up to his ear. He looked around at each of us with wonder and thanksgiving.
"How can I say what is in my heart?" he asked, hardly able to say much more.
"You don't have to say anything, just being with us this Christmas has made this season very special for our church family," I said.
Christmas Day came and went.
"Greg!" I called as I knocked on his door late that Christmas night. Loud music was blaring from inside his room. What if someone from the church had come into the building to hear that mash called "music"? I thought.
"Greg!" I knocked again. Presently he came to the door.
"What are you listening to?" I asked whimsically, as if not caring all that much, just making conversation.
Greg turned down the volume, then sat on the sofa made into a bed.
"I guess I was just trying to drown out my thoughts . . . and feelings . . . with that noise," Greg said haltingly.
"That bad, was it?" I ventured.
"And what did your parents give you for Christmas?" I asked.
"Nothing? Nothing at all? Nothing? Just plain nothing?"
Greg nodded. At the other side of the room were all the gifts that had been given by the church folk. They were all unwrapped and neatly stacked in one corner.
"My parents are not very happy people," he said. "I feel sorry for them. I am beginning to understand that they need a lot of help."
I nodded in a gesture of understanding.
"The fact that they didn't give me anything was really getting through to me tonight. I turned up the radio trying to drown out some of the hurt inside. I figured that no one would be here on Christmas night this late. So I thought it wouldn't harm anything—the loud music and all."
"No problem, Greg. No one would have stopped by. I just came because I wanted to see how you were doing, and that's why I decided to walk over and check things out," I told him.
"Yet, Pastor, through this whole mess. I have come to realize that I have one very precious gift—a gift that stands out more than anything else."
"What is that?"
"It is that I do have a family, and it's more than I've known in my whole life. My family are all those wonderful people who come to this church. They care about me. They love me. They gave me all those great gifts over there."
I left him and walked back home.
"How's he doing?" my wife asked as I walked through the door.
"Not too well. But not too badly either. I mean, I think that this Christmas is one of the most precious Christmases that Greg will ever know. For some very important reasons, this season will no doubt stand out in his memory as one of the most meaningful times in his life.
That was a year when all of us came to understand what it's like to be rejected by one's own people and what it means to be put out of an inn, only to be sheltered by the hearts of others who care enough to love.