by Rev. John Farmer
The Christmas Guest
Louis Marshall Jones (1913-1998), known professionally as Grandpa Jones, was born in the farming community of Niagra, Ky. As a teen, Jones lived in Akron, Ohio, where he began singing country music tunes on a local radio show.
The year 1935 found him in pursuit of a performing career, which took him to Boston, Mass.; where he inherited the nickname “Grandpa,” due to his off-stage, early-morning radio show grumpiness.
Grandpa Jones played the banjo, sang and yodeled his way onto the stage at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He bridged the gap from vaudeville and country music stages, to radio and onto one of the most popular TV shows, Hee Haw (1969-1971).
There, he starred with many country greats, not the least of whom was the late Grady Nutt, the preacher/comedian, who at the time was vice president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
Jones’ most famous on-air performance was The Christmas Guest, by Helen Steiner Rice, an ancient German folk tale set to music in the 1960s. It was an American Christmas classic for years, which came back to us by radio one night while in the wee morning hours Hazel and I were returning from Chincoteague Island.
Here’s a remembrance:
“It happened one day near December’s end two neighbors called on an old friend and they found his shop so meager and lame made jolly with a thousand bows of green and Conrad was sittin’ with face a’shined when he suddenly stopped as he stiched a twine.
“And he said ‘Oh friends at dawn today when the cock was crowin’ the night away the Lord appeared in a dream to me and said, I’m comin’ your guest to be.’
“So I’ve been busy with feet astir and strewin’ my shop with branches of fir. The table is spread and the kettle is shined. And over the rafters the holly is twined.
“Now I’ll wait for my Lord to appear and listen closely so I will hear his step as He nears my humble place and I’ll open the door and look on his face.
“So his friends went home and left Conrad alone for this was the happiest day he’d known for long since his family had passed away and Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas day; but he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest this Christmas would be the dearest and best.
“So he listened with only joy in his heart and with every sound he would rise with a start and look for the Lord to be at his door like the vision he’d had a few hours before.
“So he ran to the window after hearin’ a sound, but all he could see on the snow-covered ground was a shabby beggar who’s shoes were torn; and all of his clothes were ragged and worn.
“But Conrad was touched and he went to the door and he said, ‘You know, your feet must be frozen and sore. I have some shoes in my shop for you and a coat that’ll keep you warmer too.’
“So, with grateful heart, the man went away but Conrad noticed the time of day and wondered what made the Lord so late and how much longer he’d have to wait.
“When he heard a knock, he ran to the door. But it was only a stranger once more. A bent ol’ lady with a shawl of black with a bundle of kindlin’ piled on her back she asked for only a place to rest but that was reserved for Conrad’s great guest.
“But her voice seemed to plead, ‘Don’t send me away. Let me rest for awhile on Christmas day.’
“So Conrad brewed her a steamin’ cup and told her to sit at the table and sup.
“But after she left, he was filled with dismay for he saw that the hours were slippin’ away and the Lord hadn’t come as he said he would and Conrad felt sure he’d misunderstood. When out of the stillness he heard a cry, ‘Please help me, and tell me where am I!’
“So again, he opened his friendly door and stood disappointed as twice before. It was only a child who’d wandered away and was lost from her family on Christmas day.
“Again, Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad. But he knew he should make the little girl glad. So, he called her in and he wiped her tears and quieted all her childish fears. Then he led her back to her home once more.
“But as he entered his own darkened door he knew the Lord was not comin’ today for the hours of Christmas had passed away. So he went to his room and he knelt down to pray.
“And he said ‘Dear Lord, why did you delay? What kept you from comin’ to call on me? For I wanted so much your face to see.’
“When soft in the silence, a voice he heard, ‘Lift up your head, for I kept my word.
“‘Three times my shadow crossed your floor and three times I came to your lonely door.
“‘I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet and I was the woman you gave somethin’ to eat, I was the child on the homeless street.
“‘Three times, I knocked and three times I came in, and each time I found the warmth of a friend.
“‘Of all the gifts love is the best and I was honored to be your Christmas guest’.”