Come In

Modified on: December 5, 2018

I was crossing a parking lot late one evening last week, when the weather had turned so cold. From behind a car a man stepped out of the shadows to ask me for money to buy a meal.

Let me come in and share your light,
For I’m without a friend tonight,
Let me come in and share your light,
And a warm place by your fire.
(from “Solstice Song” by Alouette Iselin)

I have been approached by many people for food and money, on many streets in many countries. But I was caught off guard by the man’s sudden appearance, and I felt fear.

It looks so golden warm within
Sheltered from the winter wind,
Songs and laughter, friends and kin
Have brought me to your door.

I responded to his question with a terse rejection. Whenever I am approached for help, I try to direct a person to where they can access services of food and shelter, or to provide something directly myself. But in this case, I simply reacted. I told him no and walked away.

Open your door, for here I stand,
My only gift is my empty hand,
And empty heart and broken plans,
This dark day of the year.

In that moment, despite all of my training in theology and social service and ethics, despite all my experience working in shelters and agencies and on streets, all I wanted was to get away. It never occurred to me what gift this unwelcome stranger might carry in his empty, open hand.

I am without a home today
And soon I will be on my way,
I only ask you to let me stay
For an hour by your fire.

So many of the stories of the winter season are about gifts discovered when we open our door to strangers. Welcomed into a war-ravaged city, Jewish reformers experience a miraculous supply of oil to keep the lamps burning in the Temple. A couple and their donkey seek a place to rest at the end of a cold journey by starlight. A magical soul flies through the night to visit our firesides. And each of these people, strangers who come in darkness, bring with them unexpected gifts.

At the threshold of our homes and the gates of our nation this winter, wanderers through the darkness reach out an empty hand. Will we receive them, and the gift they offer?


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