My favorite Christmas story is “Brother Robber” by Helen Christaller in the short story collection Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old. It’s the humbleness that matches Christ’s birth that attracts me.
The story occurs in a small hut in the Apeninne mountains. A young monk, Brother Angelo, is cleaning the cold and wretched place for the Christmas celebrations. He makes some simple soup for the returning monks and decorates the cross with ivy to add a festive air.
An elder monk, Brother Francis, returns and Brother Angelo welcomes him with love and respect. During their conversation, Brother Angelo tells of three robbers visiting the hut requesting food.
I sent them away, and scolded them well for their bad ways. I told them God would send them to hell for their crimes.
”You said that and sent them away?” the older monk asked.
”Their hands were red with blood,” Angelo answered.
”They stretched them out for help and you left them unfilled?”
”They were robbers, Brother Francis.”
”They were brothers, Brother Angelo.”
”Brothers? The robbers?”
Francis looked at him severely. “Yes, the robbers. They wander in cold and hunger, and you make yourself comfortable in the warm house. Oh, Brother Angelo, your heart is not so well prepared for Christmas as this hut is.
Brother Angelo recognizes his failing, picks up a sack of bread and a pitcher of wine and searches the mountains until he finds the robbers to ask their forgiveness.
Suddenly a black, disheveled head appeared from behind a rock, glaring sinisterly at Brother Angelo. Angelo turned pale. “Ho there,” the robber cried, and instantly two other heads appeared. “What do you want, monk?” the first one bellowed, making Brother Angelo tremble. “To give us a penitential sermon as you did this morning? It’s hard preaching to empty stomachs.”
“No,” replied Angelo. He laid down his sack of bread and pitcher of wine, and knelt in the snow. “Dear robbers, forgive me for sending you away with such harsh words. I have come now to bring you some bread and wine and to beg your forgiveness for my sin.” He knelt there with head bowed. One of the robbers turned pale, bit his lip and turned away. The second robber’s face turned bright red; he covered his eyes like an ashamed child. The third, the youngest, laughed a little. “We’ll gladly forgive you,” he said. “But we felt very hungry today. Stay and eat with us.”
Brother Angelo stood up and shook the snow from his habit. “I cannot stay with you,” he said. “Brother Francis expects me for Midnight Mass at the monastery. I must hurry. But perhaps you can visit us at the monastery sometime if you are in need of anything.”
“And Brother Francis,” asked the first robber, “Will he not scold us, as you did?” The face of young Angelo lit up: “He calls you brothers!” “Brothers!” said all three with one voice, and then there was an uneasy silence.
“Farewell, brother robbers,” said Angelo. “God be with you.”
It’s the monks and the robbers that remind me of the shepherds in Luke 2, rough men who experience the news of Christ’s birth directly from a host of angels. The angels didn’t show up at the Roman Emperor’s banquet or any rich court, but to a bunch of cold, stinky men who were considered the lowest of the low; on them, God showered His glory and called them brothers.
I think of this story all year when I catch myself judging other people. With a little grace I can see them as my brothers and sisters, and with a little grace, I hope they can see me that way also. Merry Christmas and God bless you.