The Christmas Cloth

A Christmas story ...

Elda sorted through the top drawer of her bureau with both hands. Finally feeling the distinctive stitched edges of the linen, she drew out a small folded square of painted fabric. In this sacred time of year, her heart swelled with anticipation at what her Savior might do in the next few weeks.
She moved with brittle, short steps through the sitting room of her small apartment in the senior community where she had recently settled, clutching the Christmas cloth as she went. Elda recalled the cloth as it had been when she'd purchased it as a twenty-year-old girl in the dime store one block from her seminary quarters. Once stiff and proper, and now so threadbare! Just like me, she mused, as she held the cloth up to the afternoon light that pressed itself through the block window over the tiny second-hand couch. Elda smiled and shook her head, I was stiff and proper too, but now I'm thin and soft with all my dignity worn away. She yielded praise for the uncanny wisdom of her Lord and removed the framed photos from her coffee table. 
Her knobby hands spread the festive fabric over the wooden surface and stroked the creases smooth. This foldable Christmas token had traveled the mission fields of the world with her over the last sixty years. Always tucked securely in the bottom of her leather satchel, together they slipped down jungle rivers by canoe, crossed mountain borders by train, and trekked miles of remote pathways. 
Every December, countless tiny, brown fingers caressed it with curiosity while she waited patiently for the questions which always followed. 
What is this cloth? What does it mean?
It was her chance to share the Gospel through the story of Christmas. Elda remembered the joyful faces of those who had knelt with her in grass huts or curtained alcoves, and on so many dirt floors, to be born anew into the Kingdom of God. Wherever she had been, in whatever discomfort was necessary, those moments were her favorite gifts every December. 
Peace on Earth had come to many whose hands she grasped over this very cloth. Now, as she spread it again, she wondered who might join her this year, her ninety-first, to celebrate the newborn King. Father, if You will, let this old missionary woman share the Good News one more time this Christmas. 
Elda's doorbell buzzed and the door swung open to admit the nurse on duty for her corridor of apartments. She smiled a welcome to a thin young woman who wheeled a metal cart piled high with pills and syringes. The nurse made small talk with Elda, telling her about the weather and reciting the dinner menu. Her tasks completed, she packed her gear for a quick exit, but stopped short when her gaze fell upon Elda's Christmas cloth. 
“What a pretty old cloth! Where did you get it?” 

- Susan Holt Simpson

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