He was always cold. In the daytime when it was typically hot. At nighttime when it was typically cold. The time of day was not a factor for him.
His only possession was a grungy old blanket he kept clutched around him for warmth. He was the coldest person I ever encountered, and I encountered him quite often. He said he was so cold because no one ever offered to help him get warm.
I owned property in Bethlehem. I had an inn business. I also kept a few head of livestock in a barn close by. He kept asking me if he could stay in my inn because he was so cold. I was very definite with him that the likes of him would not be staying in my place. He would be bad for business, I kept telling him.
So, he kept sneaking at night into my barn where he could sleep a bit more warmly. Many were the times I would find him there. Many were the times that I chased him out with a pitchfork in hand. Many were the times I yelled at him, “Go sleep under the bridge!” I did not want that cold man or any other cold person looking for shelter in my barn. The very thought of it gave me shivers.
One night, I got a change of heart about that cold man. Business was banging. All my inn rooms were filled with travelers because the government had mandated a census for tax purposes. Former Bethlehemians and relatives had come back home. A certain man and woman had arrived late into town. They came to my place desperately looking for a place to stay. The lady was on the verge of giving birth to a baby.
With cold indifference, I told them, “You cannot stay here. My inn has no more room. Go sleep under the bridge!”
You know what happened? They found my barn, and they stayed in it that cold night without even asking. I woke up early in the morning thinking I was hearing a babe crying. Sure enough, I saw from my own room a faint light out in my barn. I just knew that that woman had given birth to that Babe in my barn. I was incensed. I randomly grabbed one of my coats from off the rack. It was really cold that night.
I slowed down from my rush as I got near the barn. I sneaked in quietly. By that time, the Babe had stopped crying, and was lying contentedly in the barn’s manger. The cold man was there, too, standing in the next stall. I saw him unwrap his blanket from his usually cold body, and hand it to the man to put around the woman.
What made him do that? Was he not cold? He did not act cold anymore. But, it did not matter. I was going to put every one of them out of my barn. Get your belongings out of my barn, I would tell them all with my pitchfork in hand. Especially that Babe — GET HIM OUT OF MY BARN! I had no room for him in my inn then. I have no room in my barn for him now.
Suddenly, I started shivering unexplainably and uncontrollably. I saw that the cold man was no longer shivering. The other man was not shivering with cold. Neither was the lady. Why did they appear so warm despite the piercing cold?
Then it hit me — actually, I was now The Cold Man. It was not that I was cold from the cold air. But, I was cold in the heart. I felt it. I was cold with indifference. I was cold with selfishness. I was cold to the needs of others. I was cold to God. I knew it. And, I did not like either the feeling or the reality of it.
I dropped the pitchfork from my hand and went over to get a closer look at the Babe in the manger. That bitter cold feeling I had had began to go away as I observed the Child. In that moment, I determined to no longer be The Cold Man. I have since warmed up some cold lives.
The Rev. Ron Branch is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va.