Leo Tolstoy’s “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” tells of an old shoemaker who has a vision on Christmas eve where Jesus comes to him and says, “Tomorrow on Christmas I will come and visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.”
He wakes the next morning and invites the cold street cleaner into his home for a cup of tea, all the while looking past him for a sign of his special visitor. Later, a young woman and child come by and, noticing the child’s cold, bare feet, he offers her his special little shoes he had been saving, but still no visit from Jesus. Throughout the day, beggars come by and Papa Panov offers them comfort and food, but at day’s end he sadly concludes the vision was only a dream for Jesus never came.
But suddenly, he realized he is not alone and he begins to see all the people who had come to him that day, the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby, and the beggars he had fed. As passing by, each whispered, “Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?”
“Who are you?” he called out, bewildered.
Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his vision, the voice of Jesus. “I was hungry and you fed me,” he said. “I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.”
Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of his big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov’s heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy.
“So he did come after all!” was all that he said.
"Look carefully” at the people who are in your life and also those in the world all around you this Advent and Christmas. What if Jesus is your spouse, your neighbor, your store clerk, your garbage collector, your child, your letter-carriers, your co-worker, in disguise? And what about all the strangers you see in passing cars, in stores, in restaurants, walking down the sidewalk? Who are they? What is their life story? Could it be that the light of Christ is shining within them? Could it be they are also Jesus in disguise?
How might you regard someone differently, even a stranger, if you knew that person might be Jesus?