It was just a small house at the end of the cul-de-sac. A “For Sale” sign was staked in the front yard. The owner had moved to Florida. Weeds covered the flower beds and blades of grass stuck up at odd angles around the posts of the white picket fence. The young man being paid to keep an eye on the place came by to cut the grass every now and then, but he never bothered to weed or edge or trim. It had been a nice little house at one time, now obviously unoccupied.
Then one early fall morning a neighbor, taking her morning walk, noticed curtains in the window of the small house. There was a light on in the front room and someone appeared to be sitting there. She paused just a moment, but her kids were still in bed and her husband needed to get to work. She had to get to work herself. So instead of stopping to look, she picked up the pace and headed for home.
It wasn’t long before the leaves on the hillside behind the small house began to change. It looked like someone had splashed vivid oranges, vibrant yellows, and deep reds across the trees. No one could remember it ever looking so beautiful. Flowers in the same colors were planted in the front yard. The grass had been trimmed from around the fence and the pickets all had a fresh coat of white paint. Someone said they had seen a man working in the yard of the little house. He appeared to be middle aged, wore a tan shirt and jeans. He had waved as they turned around in the cul-de-sac, but whoever it was hadn’t stopped to say hello.
A little past seven each morning the neighborhood children gathered in front of the little house to wait for the school bus. One day, the man came out of his house and stood on the porch watching the children. One of the boys looked back and saw the man, noticing his kind face and gentle eyes, so the boy lifted his arm in a wave. Just then the bus turned into the cul-de-sac and the children climbed in.
As the bus began to pull away, the boy looked out the window just in time to see the man close the door of the small house behind him.
Near the center of this village there was a small restaurant. Each morning around 8 a.m. a group of men arrived for coffee. Sitting around the counter they talked politics and the new traffic light on the corner of Fifth and Main. From the other end of the counter a man said that the leaves were particularly pretty on the hillside behind the cul-de-sac.
“I hear there’s someone living in the house at the end of the street,” said the waitress. “He’s got the place looking nice,” came a reply.
“Anybody know his name?”
Lunch brought a completely different crowd to the restaurant. All the shopkeepers, lawyers from the courthouse, and small business owners made their way into the restaurant about noon. Sitting around the red-and-white checkerboard tablecloth-covered tables, they ate mostly in silence, reading the paper or trying to figure out how to make it through the next month. A bell jingled as the door opened. A man wearing jeans and a tan shirt came in and made his way to a booth in the corner. A few of the regulars looked up from their plates or the paper, briefly nodded, and went back to their lunch.
A few weeks later, a young man came to town to visit his mother. His father had died quite unexpectedly six months earlier; he hadn’t been home since. It was hard to get away from his job managing the plant, and his wife and children. But the last time he talked to his mom on the phone, she sounded distant. He got in the car and drove home.
Stepping up on the porch, he rang the doorbell and waited. No one came to the door. He rang the bell again. No answer. Getting worried, he fumbled around for his key, opened the door and went inside. Calling for his mother, he found her sitting at the kitchen table.
“Mom, why didn’t you come to the door?” he asked. “Oh,” she replied. “I thought you were someone else.” “Who else, Mom?”
“There is a man who lives at the end of the street,” she said. “He’s come by a few times but I don’t know him, so I don’t go to the door. He just waits on the porch for a few minutes. Then he will get the hose and water the flowers. They seem to be growing nicely this year. But I don’t know him, so I don’t go to the door.”
Soon the colors on the hillside began to fade. The wind grew chill and the days grew short. No one was quite sure when it happened, but one day the curtains were gone. The flowers had died and the weeds threatened to overtake the beds again. The small house at the end of the street was once again empty.
The Word was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice.2
God moved into your neighborhood as the church to transform and change your community with the good news of the gospel! As the glow of Christmas fades, may we move into the neighborhood as the hands and feet of Christ today.
MATTHEW A. RICH is pastor of First Church, Lumberton, N.C.
1 John 1:14 as translated in The Message
2 From John 1:9-13 as translated in The Message