A Christmas Dream
By Martin Thielen
December 1, 2022
For December’s post, I’d like to share a Christmas legend from Russia. It’s an adaptation of a short story by Leo Tolstoy.
Many years ago a shoemaker named Charles lived in a tiny apartment which doubled as a shoe shop in a large city. Charles stayed busy as a shoemaker, for he was an honest man and a fine craftsman. He lived alone; his beloved wife had died years earlier, leaving him grief-stricken and lonely. However, during the years that followed her death, Charles’s faith, friends, and work brought him comfort, meaning, and joy.
One night, a few days before Christmas, while Charles slept, he dreamed that Jesus came to visit him in his little apartment and shoe shop. Jesus said, “Charles, be on the lookout tomorrow, for I am going to visit you.” Suddenly Charles was fully awake. Was this really the voice of Jesus? Is it possible Jesus would visit his shop the next day? He was so excited he tossed and turned the rest of the night.
The next morning Charles rose before dawn, said his morning prayers, heated the stove, put on some cabbage soup, and sat down at his bench by the window to work. This morning, however, his mind was not on shoes. He wondered about his dream. Was it just a strange dream, or was it possible Jesus would visit him that day?
All morning long, Charles’s eyes looked out the window of his little shop. As he looked, he saw old Stephen, the janitor at his building, clearing away the snow on the sidewalk. Charles noticed that Stephen was struggling to shovel the snow. He thought, A man that old and frail has no business shoveling heavy snow.
Tapping on the window, Charles shouted to the old man, “Come in here and get warm! I have some tea ready.”
Moments later Stephen shuffled into the small room. “Thank you,” he said, “my bones are aching.” Charles poured Stephen a glass of hot tea and placed a sugar cube in it. The old man drank down the glass rapidly and nodded his thanks to his host.
“Have another,” Charles said, reaching for the teapot. Stephen drank the second cup, more slowly this time. Finally he finished, and he thanked Charles again.
Charles was pleased as the old man went outside, but he was also a bit disappointed. It was already late morning, and Jesus had not yet come. He went back to his workbench, and worked on a pair of shoes.
About an hour later, Charles looked again out his window, and he saw a woman, poorly dressed, standing against the wall with her back to the wind. She had a child in her arms, and she was trying to wrap the child in a thin and ragged blanket. Opening the door, Charles said to the young woman, “Why don’t you wrap your baby in here where it is warm.”
A moment later, the woman stood by the stove telling her story. Her husband had been shipped off to war by the military eight months before and had not been heard from since. She had a job as a cook but had recently been laid off, so she was out looking for a new job.
Charles asked, “Don’t you have any warm clothes?”
She said, “I sold my last shawl yesterday. We needed food.”
Charles opened a closet in the shop where a woman’s winter coat was hanging. Handing it to the woman he said, “It belonged to my wife. I don’t need it anymore.”
She said, “Oh no, I couldn’t.”
Charles said, “Yes, you must take it. It would make my wife so happy for you to have it.” He then gave her a bowl of his cabbage soup. While she ate, he found a warm blanket for her baby. She thanked him with tears in her eyes. As she walked out the door, Charles gave her a loaf of bread and a large smoked sausage. When she was gone, Charles felt pleased that he had been able to assist her in some small way. Yet he also felt anxious, for it was early afternoon, and Jesus had not yet made his visit.
As the afternoon wore on, Charles found it difficult to keep his mind on his work. He often peered out the window, wondering if Jesus was really going to come and visit him. Late in the afternoon, Charles saw a boy looking through his shop window at all the new shoes. The boy, dressed in rags, was obviously very poor. Charles noticed that his shoes were full of holes and falling apart. So Charles walked outside and said, “Come in here young man, and we’ll get you a new pair of shoes.”
The boy sheepishly said, “Sir, I have no money for shoes.”
Charles said, “Don’t worry about the money. It’s Christmas!”
The boy came into the shop. Charles measured his feet and then gave him a brand-new pair of shoes. Beaming, the boy thanked him repeatedly, then finally left the shop. Charles watched the boy skip down the street, full of joy at his good fortune. As he went back inside, he felt good that he had been able to help the young boy. But he also felt sad because it was now late in the day and Jesus had not come—and obviously was not going to come.
That evening the shoemaker put his tools away, swept the floor, and set his table for dinner. When he finished his cabbage soup, Charles picked up his Bible and sat in his chair by the lamp. He felt rather foolish for believing that Jesus had spoken to him the night before. How silly to think Jesus would visit his shop. It was just a strange dream, that’s all, Charles said to himself.
His Scripture reading that evening took him to chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew. In that passage Jesus said to his followers, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was naked and you clothed me.” When Jesus’s followers heard those words, they looked surprised and said, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothe you?” And the king answered, “When you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
Suddenly, images of old Stephen the janitor, and the soldier’s wife with the baby, and the poor boy with worn-out shoes flashed across Charles’s mind. Charles realized that his dream had not deceived him. Jesus had come to him that day. And Charles had truly received him.
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