December 18, 2012
It was just a few days before Christmas, and a young priest in a small town on the eastern plains of Colorado was building a nativity scene for the church, up front near the altar.
He was busying himself with pine boughs late that afternoon and could not see the door, but heard the squeak as the door opened. As he peered over the branches, he could see a small boy enter, poorly dressed against the biting cold.
The young boy quickly moved to an old steam radiator to warm himself. After the sting of the cold had left his hands and face, he looked around the church, and his eyes came to rest on the nativity scene.
The young priest, fearful that he might frighten the lad, remained motionless behind the scene that housed the miniature child Jesus, and the rest of the familiar faces of the manger.
After satisfying himself that he was alone, the youngster approached the manger scene and stood before it, looking down on the babe in the crib. The priest, still hidden, was watching intently.
Finally the boy spoke: “You’re poor too. You don’t look like You will get any toys for Christmas either.”
A tear trickled down the face, reddened with the warmth of the church after the hurt of the cold. “You know what I want for Christmas, more than anything else in the world,” the boy told the infant Jesus. “A toy army Jeep, with a real driver in the seat. Any kind will do, but it has to have a soldier driving it or it won’t be any good.”
The priest’s heart was touched. His was a poor parish, but he didn’t recognize this young boy, and certainly by the looks of his clothes, there wouldn’t be any money for toys, and little for food, in his home.
“I’ll bet You can get me that toy Jeep with its soldier driver. I’ll come back tomorrow at the same time and see You again.” And with that the boy left the church and went out into the cold.
The priest finished his work on the manger, but his thoughts were on the boy and his request. A toy Jeep wouldn’t be hard to find, but one with a soldier driver—that would be a tough assignment! And the boy was firm. It had to have a soldier driver. “Well, it’s worth a try,” the priest thought. “I’ll look in all the toy departments in town.”
It was a small town, and the priest went into every store he could find, but found no toy Jeep with a soldier driver. He drove to a neighboring town, and after much searching, his heart was filled with relief; he found a toy Jeep with a soldier driver.
Early the next morning, the priest made his way from the rectory to the church, holding his coat tightly around him. His thoughts turned to the young boy. “What was his home like? Did it ever have heat?” The thoughts troubled him, but as he clutched the toy Jeep with its soldier driver in his gloved hand, he felt relieved. “At least the infant Jesus will have His gift for him.”
The priest carefully placed the toy Jeep with its soldier driver next to the crib where the infant Jesus lay, and arranged the candle display so that there would be light upon the olive drab toy.
The priest went about his day, and later in the afternoon again hid himself behind the manger to await the boy. Minutes passed into an hour, and the priest became discouraged. “Maybe the boy lost his faith,” he thought. The old radiator hissed out its sound of heat, and again the priest’s thoughts turned to the boy’s ragged unsuitable coat to hold out the biting Colorado cold.
Darkness began to spread throughout the church, and only the warm glow of the candles lit the pews. The priest thought of turning on the lights, but dispelled the idea, thinking any minute the boy would appear.
Suddenly, the hinges groaned and squeaked, and the young boy appeared at the back of the church. Once again he went to the radiator to warm himself, and as he held out his hands to its warmth he let his eyes become accustomed to the dark. Finally, satisfying himself that he was alone, he approached the manger scene.
The priest was breathless with anxiety, and as he came close, and the candle by the manger lit his face, the priest saw the magic of Christmas come alive in the boy’s eyes.
“I knew You could find it!” the boy exclaimed. “It’s just what I wanted, a toy Jeep with a real soldier driver!” A slight cloud appeared in his face. “But, I don’t have anything to give You.” He said, “Maybe I’ll find something for You at home.” He turned and walked down the aisle. Then suddenly he paused and then turned back, clutching the Jeep tightly in one hand but holding something hidden in the other. He walked back to the manger scene and placed an object in the crib with the Infant Jesus, and merely said, “I’ll share with You, Merry Christmas”—and left the church.
The dim light failed to let the priest see what the boy had shared with the Infant Jesus. But after the squeaky door closed behind the boy, he walked around to the front of the manger, and what he saw in the crib, put there by the boy, brought tears to his eyes.
The boy had placed in the crib with the Infant Jesus the part of his toy that made it so special—the soldier driver.
A true story? Yes, it was a homily I heard from a young priest at a Christmas midnight mass in Colorado two years ago. I’m sure he said it better than my attempt at writing it. You see, he authenticated the story. He ended the story by simply holding up the toy soldier. He had saved it since that cold December day.
Published on December 2012. Read by Tina Miles.
Music taken from the Christmas Moments album. Used by permission.
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