Conrad the Cobbler was poor. Having lost most of his family
to sickness and death, his life was a struggle as he plied his trade.
He often wished his life too would end.
A holy pilgrim passing through encouraged him to read the
Gospels. Conrad found solace in the stories of how the Master
healed the broken, fed the hungry and preached good news.
One day he told his friends, who were surprised to find his shop
so clean and his spirits so free,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, “I am coming your guest to be.
He comes today, and the table is spread
With milk and honey and wheaten bread.
His anticipation overwhelmed him. He dreamed of the moment
of the Lord’s arrival.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
As the day turned grey, Conrad sighed at the thought the
Lord had forgotten his promise.
Then soft in the silence, a voice he heard:
“Lift up your heart, for I kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.” *
And even today, the world waits.
In times of struggle, division and disappointment we tend to give up hope. Like the humble cobbler, the anxieties of daily life often cause us frustration and even despair. The Gospels console us with stories of the power of Christ’s love and compassion to bring healing and peace. So the signs of tribulation and dismay that Luke foretells should not frighten us, for faith tells us the Messiah will come, a New Creation will dawn.
And so we wait.
But like Conrad the cobbler, we are challenged by the Good News to see the Risen Christ in the very people who reach out to us in their need. Being able to see, in our own pain, the pain of others is the key to the New Creation. This waiting time invites us to seek out the coming Messiah in those around us: in a neighbor who is alone; in a relative out of touch; in the homeless or unemployed in our community, the migrant at our border.
The popular tradition of the “Giving Tree” in our parish communities speaks to this coming Messiah in our midst. The Annual Advent Appeal for the Retirement of Religious is especially noteworthy. Even the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army’s Sidewalk Santas are all expressions of the universal understanding that there is a powerful witness in sharing in the pain of others. Even in the secular world, the “good feeling” gained from these little sacrifices gives evidence of the challenge of our waiting.
The Gospel invites us to be strong and determined in the face of tribulation, an appropriate challenge for our time. As individuals, as a local faith community, as a universal Church, Jeremiah offers a promise that only we can fulfill. He challenges Jerusalem--he challenges all of us--to be called “the LORD our Justice.” Trials and tribulations, anxious days and troubling nights are part of the human experience. Getting through these times with courage and hope is the message of this season of waiting for the triumph of justice.
Lest we forget that promise in the midst of life’s struggles, we have the Eucharist, the real presence of the Messiah, the Christ. But even in the Eucharist, Jeremiah’s challenge remains for it has been said that "Eucharist is a verb that does justice." So as we wait, we have the Eucharist, not just as food for the journey, but Eucharist that is itself the journey, transforming us into instruments of justice.
So we wait, though he is here.
* There are many versions of this folk tale first written by Leo Tolstoy in 1885 under the title “Where Love Is, God Is.” Tolstoy’s cobbler was named Martin. The verse version quoted here was penned by the American poet Edwin Markham as “How the Great Guest Came." He names the cobbler Conrad.