My name is Simon –and I grew up in Bethlehem. You know who I am – but you won’t realize this until after I finish telling you my story.
Life was hard for me as a boy – you see, I was disfigured from birth – I had a crooked back and could not stand up straight and tall – and so many in Bethlehem, especially other boys my own age – shunned me because of my repulsive looks- you know how cruel people can be. . .
More often than not –when I asked for alms or help --- I received blows and curses instead.
I never knew my father – and when my mother died two years ago – I lost my one and only friend.
So I was all alone – no home, no friends, no means of support – I just wandered the streets of this little town of Bethlehem – hoping to find my next meal in the piles of trash left in the back alleys.
Once or twice a week, when evening rolled around, I would make my way out to a little inn at the outskirts of town. The cook there would often let me sit by the fire pit as he prepared the meals for the guests in the inn.
Oh -- To sit in the glow of the heat from the charcoal cooking fire, to smell the delicious odors of the roasting meat, these were the finest experiences I knew --- and when I was given the scraps of bones and fat discarded by the guests at the inn –
I felt like I was at a great banquet as this was the most nourishing food I had all week.
Later, I would slip into the stable built into the hillside behind the inn. There were found a cow and donkey belonging to the innkeeper, as well as the horses of the more affluent travelers.
Also, in a little stall at one end, were kept a few sheep – where I slept. The sheep were gentle beasts, and their soft, wooly sides were a fine protection against the chill of the night, allowing me to fall fast asleep.
Late one night, I was awakened by a commotion the likes of which I had never heard before. I lay there for the longest time –
terrified that the sounds might be made by robbers attempting to steal a horse or a cow – or maybe even a sheep!
But at last within the very stable walls, I heard the joyful cry of a small baby! At hearing this, I could not contain myself any longer: I rose to my knees, and peered between the boards which separated the sheep pen from the rest of the stable. I gazed in amazement on the scene – and had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. . .
Seated upon a robe atop a pile of hay -- a mother held an obviously newborn baby in her lap.
Gathered before her in attitudes of worship were a small group of shepherds --- seeing all of this --- I just had to get a better look!!
Almost without willing it, I climbed over the boards of the stall – thoroughly expecting to be driven from the stable with blows and curses – because that’s what I was used to getting. . .
But instead, a roughly dressed man – he must have been the baby’s father – took my hand and led me toward the child. The shepherds moved aside to let me pass – as though I was a prince or person of great importance.
So, I found myself kneeling before this newborn child. And then his mother turned the child in her arms so his gaze rested squarely upon me.
I knelt there trembling in nervous fear and awe. The child’s dark eyes were looking right at me - -and without knowing why – I felt compelled to return his gaze.
I then felt like I was drowning – or falling into a bottomless pit of that fathomless gaze. There was a feeling of fiery force which seemed to flow through my body, and then I turned and twisted in a way I could not understand. There was a moment of almost unbearable pain, and then I rose to my feet.
For moment, I could not understand what had happened: things looked so different!! And then it came to me that I had never before looked upon the world from this height, or from this angle – because my back was straight and I had never felt so strong or more ------ normal.
The father of the child came suddenly to lay a hand upon my head. “My son”, he said, “tonight you have been given the gift of a strong, new back. Such miracles are not wasted. I do not know how, but someday, when this baby has become a man, he will have need of a strong back. When the times comes, though you have roamed to the very end of the earth, you will be there beside him. . . By what name are you called, and where have you come from?”
“I am Simon, Sir,” I answered. “I am an orphan. My father was the leader of a mighty caravan. But he was killed by robbers in the year I was born. He used to live in Cyrene, before he came to Bethlehem and met my mother. Now that I am whole and strong - -I think I will go there. Perhaps some of my father’s people are living there still.” So saying, I turned away, and went out into the first light of morning.
All of these memories came crashing back to me as I was caught up in a great crowd many years later on the streets of Jerusalem. It was the feast of Passover and the streets were crowded with many pilgrims – and there was an execution in process by those dreaded Romans.
One of them grabbed me and had me pick up the cross of one of those about to be executed. . .
This time a man’s dark eyes, rather than a child’s, were looking right at me. And once again I felt as if I were falling into a bottomless pit of his fathomless gaze.
He simply mouthed the words “Thank You” as I took up his cross on my strong, straight, back – and remembered how this man, as a newborn child, blessed me with it.
I am Simon of Cyrene – and this is my story. But what does it have to do with you???
Well let’s face it – each of you have been given gifts and talents by God:
strong backs, strong minds, strong hands, strong hearts – Why you even celebrate the gift you have of each other ---- by exchanging gifts on this most holy of days --- all to show your love for one another.
As someone once said: Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give – it’s Christmas. When we give any gift: our time, our talent, our treasure, our strength – or just a smile: it is Christmas.
Just know that gifts are given not to be wasted – but to be shared. In this way, it’s possible to have Christmas all year round! And someday –we don’t know when, where, how or why ---
God is going to want us to use our gifts for the good of the kingdom . . . So cherish the gifts in life you have been given – and never forget who it was who gave them to you: the same person wo gave me the gift of a strong new back!
Use your gifts to take care of those around you – and be willing to offer them in service to others.
So have a blest Christmas – and welcome, anew, the gift of Christ into your hearts and lives this day!
Live with gratitude. Live with intention. Live with joy. So please join me in singing:
O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him --- Christ, the Lord.
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