Stranger God and Johnny Cash's "The Christmas Guest"

Regular readers know I'm a Johnny Cash fan. In fact, my next book with Fortress is tentatively titled The Gospel According to Johnny Cash.

But my most recently published book is Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise.

So here's a Christmas, Stranger God, Johnny Cash connection.

The big story of Stranger God is how God comes to us when we show hospitality to strangers. Jesus comes to us incognito and in disguise.

Jesus coming to us in disguise is a huge Christmas theme. Christmas tales and legends abound about Jesus coming to people in the guise of beggars and the needy during the Christmas season. A person shares a meal or a warm place to stay only to find that the person they welcomed was Jesus in disguise.

In 1980 Johnny Cash penned his own version of this story, a poem entitled "The Christmas Guest":
It happened one day at December's end,
Some neighbors called on an old time friend.
And they found his shop so meager and lean
Made gay with a thousand bows of green
And old Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And he said "My friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said 'I'm coming your guest to be.'
So I've been busy with feet astir
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined.
And over the rafters the holly is twined.
Now I'll await for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His steps as He nears my humble place.
And I'll open the door and look on His face."

Then his friends went home and left Conrad alone
For this was the happiest day he had known,
For long since, his family had passed away
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas Guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.

So he listened with only joy in his heart
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be at his door.
Like the vision that he had had a few hours before.

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.
But old Conrad was touched and he went to the door
And he said, "You know, your feet must be cold and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you
And a coat that will keep you warmer too."
So with grateful heart the man went away
But Conrad noticed the time of day
And wondered what made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he'd have to wait.

Then he heard a knock, he ran to the door
But it was only a stranger once more.
A bent old lady with a shawl of black
And a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest
A place that was reserved for Conrad's Great Guest.
But her voice seemed to plead "Don't send me away,
Let me rest for awhile, it's Christmas Day."
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away
And the Lord had not come as he said he would.
Then Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry
"Please help me and tell me where am I?"
So again he opened his friendly door
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who'd wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.
Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he could make the little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door
He knew the Lord was not coming today.
For the hours of Christmas had all passed away.

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said "Dear Lord, why did you delay?
What kept you from coming to call on me?
I wanted so much your face to see."
Then softly in the silence a voice he heard.
"Lift up your head, I have kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor
And three times I came to your lowly door.
I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet
I was the woman you gave something to eat.
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, three times I came in.
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best.
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest."
You can hear Cash recite the poem here.

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