By BY AUSTIN FENNELL on December 11, 2020.
(A tale from Germany)
It was a cold winter’s day. Two men were walking through the snow and blowing wind. They could see not even a tree. Here and there a pole stuck out of the ground to mark where the road was buried beneath the snow. One of the men appeared to be younger, his face wrapped in a heavy, thick mantle. The other was equally wrapped up; his clothes looked poor.
At last they caught sight of a very large farm house surrounded by a variety of smaller buildings. They reached the house just as night fell. Lights shone through the windows. The younger man sat down on an upturned wheelbarrow. The older man went to the door of the house.
“They won’t open the door,” said the younger man. “They are so frightened by fugitives and deserters roaming the countryside after the terrible war.”
“Where shall we go?” said one to the other. “It is Christmas Eve. They must open the door. I’ll ask them in Christ’s name to do so.”
Said the old man, “So many bad things have been done in His name, it may make no difference.”
They knocked again. A voice within said, “Set the dogs on them, and the dogs, barking, came around the corner. The older man jumped out of their way. The farmer came out of the house with a pitchfork in his hand, followed by his wife and some of the farmhands. Suddenly they stopped amazed at the sight they saw.
Before them in the hollow of the land was a fir tree. It was on fire but not consumed. It was beautiful and green. At the foot of the tree sat the two travellers, their hands held up to the tree to warm them. The grass around the tree was green, wild flowers were blooming. The air about the tree was warm. The two dogs lay quietly at the foot of the tree. The clothes of the two men had a foreign look to them. The farmer and his household suddenly realized who the two men were.
“Forgive us, Lord, we did not know who you were or we would have let you into our house. Have mercy on us and forgive us, we pray.”
The younger traveller was now recognized as Christ and the other as St. Peter. They rose to their feet. Christ laid his hands on the heads of the children and led them right up to the tree where its branches were beautiful, birds singing. Apples and nuts hung on the tree. Roses were blooming as if it were spring. Squirrels and hares crouched under the tree. The Lord lifted each one of the children up to touch the tree and taste its goodies. The candle flames on the tree did not touch or burn them. The farmer and his household were kneeling now.
“Dear ones, ” said the Lord. “Where one human heart seeks me and is not hardened by the cares and troubles of the world, I am always there with them for I am alive forevermore.”
“Come back and stay with us,” asked the farmer. “No thank you,” said the Lord. “But keep me in your hearts. I have others to whom I must go this night.”
At that moment, Peter said to the farmer, “If anyone else comes to your door this night, do be kind. Don’t be so frightened and treat the stranger as a devil.”
“But how can I know?” said the farmer.
“That is the whole point,” said the Lord. “You can never be sure who comes to your door, and it does not always turn out as well as this night.”
In a few minutes the two travellers had disappeared. Slowly the flames on the tree went out, the sky above them was clear, the darkness of the winter night closed in upon them, and the farmer and his family praised God for Divine goodness and they returned to their house singing carols.
(This is why on a Christmas Eve, people decorate Christmas trees and sometimes sing carols to give thanks to the Lord for Divine goodness and for the gift of His Son.)
Story from “The World’s Christmas” by Olive Wyon.