The Christmas Stench

There was once a minister who moved to San Francisco to pastor a little church. The name of that little church was Emmanuel which means “God with us”. There was an atmosphere about that little church that said to strangers or homeless ones, “welcome, come right in.” This young pastor had lots of experience with all kinds of people, but on the streets of San Francisco he met someone very special.

One night after the close of the service as the people began to leave for home, a stranger walked up. Tall, thin, hungry, and homeless, the stranger said to the young preacher, “I would like some toast and eggs sunny side up.” The pastor was happy to feed the hungry homeless man, but “sunny side up?” The pastor thought that he was asking a bit much. The young minister figured that he should be content with whatever he’s given. So the pastor gave the stranger what he had and everybody was happy.

A few days later the man rang the door bell of the parsonage which was on the second floor up from the sanctuary. He said, “this is Reuben.” So the pastor and his family got to know Reuben because he came by for food on a regular basis. Sometimes the pastor thought that Reuben came too much and at the wrong time. The minister felt that he was too busy. He had a full-time job, a church to pastor, a wife, and three small kids. Yes, he was a man with a plan. What he didn’t have was a ‘good attitude about Reuben’. Reuben 101 was not offered at his ministerial school.

The Thanksgiving Holiday came and the family always shared a great feast with their relatives across the bay. After Thanksgiving, the pastor decided that they would invite Reuben for their Christmas Dinner. But wait! The minister thought. “We have small children; Reuben is dirty, smelly, and who knows what might be attached to his body.”
So all agreed that Reuben would be given a bath and cleaned up for Christmas Dinner.
We’ll find him some cloths and dress him up real good. “But wait! Where will he take this bath?”, the young pastor thought. Reuben is dirty, smelly, and who knows what might be attached to his body.
They felt it wouldn’t be good for the kids if they bathed him in the parsonage , not to mention the stench.
So they decided to borrow a big tin tub from a church member. So the pastor obtained the tub and helped Reuben take a bath in his office at the church below. Looking back it occurred to that pastor that they never taught him in Bible College how to bath another man in San Francisco.

So in 1984, on Christmas Day, in the city by the Bay, at a church called Emmanuel, upstairs in the parsonage, Reuben had a memorable dinner with the pastor and his family. In the minds of this little family with three children ages 3, 7, and 11, they will always remember that Reuben was truly their Emmanuel(God with us).

P.S. Barb and I recently visited our youngest son Jemuel who was 3 at the time, and is now 25. We asked him if he remembered Reuben. He said, “No, but I remember the stench”.

Poet’s Note –
This dinner engagement with a homeless person taugh our little children about loving the poor, stench or no stench.

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I am a retired minister and the husband of Barbara for 42 years. We reside in Sacramento ,Ca. We have two sons and a daughter, and we are the proud grandparents of 6 children.
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6 Comments on "The Christmas Stench"

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Nadeem Qazilbash

Without that stench, the world does not exist, people who live life without experiencing it, have never really lived life.

Bill Peeler

A good story told in the style of a morality tale.

Savi Mani

dear @curtisjohnsonsr a wonderful story and it brought tears into my eyes towards the end……….very very wonderful heart touching one………i really loved “Reuben was truly their Emmanuel(God with us)” what is God, we try finding HIM in temples, churches, and other holy places but no HE is there in each one of us and by serving Reuben you served God……..this made me remember the poem i read in my childhood “Abu Ben Adhem”……….lovely write up ….loved every bit of it


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