Christmas – Seeing Things in a Different Light

Standing at the edge of his doorway and behind my taller brother Danny, I could not help taking tip-toe looks into the shabby cabin. This man represented mystery and evil in my young life yet here I was with our youth group – singing carols outside the door of “old man Shaky.”

I grew up in terror of this man who walked around the city in his dark overcoat and knit skull cap. I don’t think his name was Shaky, but he did have a tremor in one of his arms. The older kids told stories about him, scary stories that always ended “if you don’t watch out, old man Shaky will get you.” I was afraid of him.

Creatures like Shaky came out of their lair at night to frighten little kids and worse. The best defense being offense, I know some of the teens threw rocks at him whenever he came near. I guess some of them had followed him home.

Its funny I had never thought of Shaky having a home. The one-room shack we were looking into was sided with black insulation board. Insulation board comes in eight-foot sheets, one-half inch thick. It is made of fibers; rigid but fragile. Shaky’s siding was full of holes. Yes, full of holes. Holes like a rock would make. I was close enough to read the wadded newspapers used to pack the holes.

As we walked up, feet crunching in the snow, I had heard the whispers: “This is old man Shaky’s place.” I couldn’t believe it. What were we doing here? I did not feel safe in numbers so I fell toward the back.

Smoke was rising from the chimney. Someone knocked on the door. No answer. Still we began to sing, “Joy to the World.” During the song the door cracked open and a bare-headed face looked at us. I don’t know if I sang with the rest on “Away in a Manger” and “Angels, We Have Heard on High.” Fear and curiosity were fighting inside me as I watched light stream from that door and frame the old man’s face. Beyond him I could just see a bit of wall with rough shelving and part of the wood stove pipe.

Song finished, Shaky retreated for a moment so I pushed forward for a good look. I remember thinking his home was about the size of our shed at home. Before I could move he swung wide his door; an old man in a blue flannel shirt offering us some fruitcake. Served from a plate held in his good arm I accepted a broken piece – I think everyone did.

I did sing with the group on our next song, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Something of Christ’s incarnation crystallized in my youthful understanding – Jesus’ humility, His love, His ability to change a life – too many things to describe here. I was changed. My world had changed. I would not fear the old man again for I had seen him in a different light. The Light of Christmas.

We left singing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”

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