The old woman approached the rear door of the little
church building with halting steps. Shifting the bulky shopping bags
from one hand to the other, she raised sore, frozen knuckles and rapped
gingerly on the thick wooden door. She waited, then tried again,
wincing with the pain as the sound echoed. She was just turning away in
despair when she heard a metallic click and the door swung slightly
open. Inside stood a heavy-set man in work clothes. She could barely
make out the lines of his face in the dim evening light.
questioned in a gruff voice. "What is it?"
The old woman swallowed
hard then spoke hesitatingly.
"Sir, I... You see, I have need
She stopped. How does one beg for food and shelter? Are
there prescribed words and phrases that one must know to tell of hours
spent in a frozen
rain without benefit of nourishment for days past? She didn't know,
this was all new to her, but she had to try.
"Sir...", she began
But the man interrupted her roughly.
"Lady, I'm just the
janitor here. There was a late choir practice for the Christmas program
tomorrow, but everyone has gone home except me. I can't do anything
for you. I have to lock this building up tight. It's my job."
old woman gasped as the door thudded shut and the sound of a bolt
sliding into place made her wince, taking her last hope with it's
finality. Any observer would have seen despair forming on her features
and a new paleness on her cheek where icy winds had pasted a false blush
just moments before. This had been her last chance. She knew she
lacked the strength to move on in search of help. It was cold and wet
and she was starving.
Slowly she sank down on the frozen step, the
dropping onto the pavement at her feet. She wrapped thin arms around
an equally thin waist and began slowly, methodically rocking back and
forth. It would be painless, she thought. Just drifting off into a
final sleep, embracing a fog of oblivion. She continued the rhythmical
Near the front of the building a car engine growled in
protest of the stiffening cold, then reluctantly jumped into action.
But the old woman didn't hear. The janitor put the car in reverse,
backed out of the parking lot, and headed home to a nice Christmas Eve
dinner with his family.
Suddenly the old woman jumped and opened her
eyes. For a moment she was totally confused. Then icy drops from the
overhanging roof brought her abruptly back to reality. But something
was different. It took her a moment to realize that it was singing she
heard. And it was coming from inside the church. How long had
she slept? Not long, surely. The sky was still inky black.
painfully she pulled herself to her feet. Turning to the heavy door
she had been leaning against, she dared to lift a timid hand to the
latch. She had barely touched the cold brass when the door swung
noiselessly open. She leaned on the door frame for support. She drew
one breath of absolute astonishment, then seemed to stop breathing all
She was standing behind the choir loft, and as she blinked
in unbelief, fifty robed figures once again raised beautifully blended
voices in a new hymn. Each set of shoulders was draped in shimmering
cloth, and the back of each head was circled with a crown of light.
Immediately the old woman became aware of a delicious warmth stealing
over her whole being. She glanced back at the heavy door through which
she had recently stepped so cautiously, only to find it had securely
closed, barring the icy night.
As the hymn ended, the old woman
stood riveted to the spot, for one of the choir members was turning to
speak to her. She saw golden hair framing a gentle face full of love
and heard a soft voice speaking.
"Won't you join us?"
seemed long moments, the old woman found her voice enough to answer.
couldn't..., I'm not..., you see..."
She halted in confusion and
helplessly, hopelessly gestured to her tattered and beaten appearance.
the choir lady just smiled.
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter
at all", she repeated gently.
And somehow the old woman understood
that it did not matter, and she found herself in the midst of the
heavenly host singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good will toward men!"