The small village had been split along religious grounds. The African-American Baptists lived to the West of the town center, the Jews to the South, and the White Christians to the North and East. The community was small and poor and could not afford a place of worship for each of the three groups. They each rented space in the town hall building and practiced their rituals in a generally cooperative but separate atmosphere. The groups kept to themselves and there was almost no intermixing except for the children at the school where all the groups attended without prejudice. There was no discrimination at work, however, aside from this, each group kept pretty much to themselves, no inter-racial or cross-cultural socializing and no marriages between the different groups.
December was very cold and the holidays were upon them and arrangements were made for celebrating the different traditions. The large central hall of the Town Hall building had been separated into three areas, one for the White Christmas celebration with a large tree, one for Kwanza and one for Hanukkah. As in previous years, dividing walls had been built to separate the groups and each could carry on its traditional service without disturbing the other. Times for their separate programs were established so that songs and noise would not interfere, and the singing or chanting of one group would not disturb another.
The decorations were in place by the fifteenth of December, with trees lit up, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza decorations in place.
On December 23rd someone accidently tipped over one of the lighted candles and a fire resulted in the main hall. The little town had a small volunteer fire department, which was called and immediately the populace responded. However, each group went to its own religious area and there was no coordinated activity to put out the fire. The fire soon enveloped the entire building.
All three areas burned to the ground and the three groups stood outside the destroyed City Hall looking sadly at their destroyed religious areas. They returned to their homes. Later that day, the White Christians were notified there would be a meeting in the School gymnasium that evening. A group of fifty attended and after everyone was seated, an elderly white man in a custodian’s clothing appeared. He looked at the group and spoke softly.
“Because you were not willing to work together with the other two religious groups, all three have lost their place of worship and celebration. I have come to help you re-establish your place of worship.”
“Who are you that you can do all this?” asked one of the members, eyeing the man skeptically. “I’ve never seen you here before.”
“I have always been here with you,” he said and in a moment he was changed into a man in a robe with a halo over his head the image of Christ.
The attendees gaped as the man walked among them, returned to the center of the room and again changed back into the clothing of the custodian.
“I want you all to meet here tomorrow evening and we will arrange for a place for you to celebrate your beliefs.” With that, the man turned and disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
“We have our own personal savior,” voiced the minister.
“It’s a miracle called out a woman, falling to her knees.”
They left the room and went to their homes, but when they tried to explain to others what had transpired, they were strangely unable to speak. They looked forward to the meeting the following evening.
Shortly after this, a meeting was called for the Jewish group and as they assembled, a white man in a custodian’s clothes appeared.
“Because you were not willing to work together with the two other religious groups, you have all lost your places of worship and celebration. I have come to help you re-establish your place of worship.”
The Rabbi spoke up, “But who are you to do this for us? I’ve never seen you here before.”
“I have always been here with you,” he said, and in a moment he was transformed into the appearance of a holy man with long beard, prayer shawl and robe, and behind him was a burning bush.”
The Jews stared at him and the bush in amazement and he walked among them, touching each on the head, then returned to the center of the hall and was immediately changed back into his custodian’s clothing and the bush disappeared. He spoke, “I will meet you back here tomorrow evening and help you arrange for a place where you can practice your beliefs.” Then he walked away from them and disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
“It’s a miracle,” exclaimed the Rabbi, “A Jewish miracle.” The group walked solemnly out of the building, but when they tried to tell others what had transpired, their lips were sealed.
Shortly after, the African American group was asked to assemble in the same place. After they had all arrived, a Black man in a custodian’s clothing stood before them and spoke, “Because you were not willing to work together with the other two groups, all three have lost their places of worship and celebration. I have come here to help you establish your place of worship.”
“Who are you that you can do this?” asked a parishioner. “We’ve never seen you here before.”
“I have always been here with you,” and in a moment the man was changed into the appearance of a Black Christ with a halo and a robe. He walked among them, touching each one and returned to the center of the room and immediately changed back into the custodian.
“I will meet you back here tomorrow evening and will help you arrange for a place where you can practice your beliefs.” With that he walked away and disappeared in a veil of smoke.
“It’s a miracle,” sang out the pastor. Several others called out, “Praise the Lord.” The little group dispersed but when they went home they discovered they could not speak of what they had seen or heard.
The following evening all three groups assembled at the gymnasium, each surprised to see the others. When all were present, a man dressed as a custodian appeared. Suddenly he changed into the figure they had all seen, each group at the same time seeing him as their own personage, a White holy man, a Black holy man and a Rabbi with a burning bush. But each group thought that what they were seeing was seen by the others. Then the custodian reappeared. “You have all seen me as you would have me appear to you, all different but all the same. And so you will all work and celebrate this one day together, all participating in the rituals of the others or there will be no rituals at all.
The three groups looked around at each other and recognized the miracle they had seen. In one voice they all said:
“We will celebrate together.”
And suddenly the gymnasium was transformed into the decorated
room which had burned down, and the three groups celebrated Christmas, Kwanza and Hanukkah that evening together.
From then on, they all began socializing together. The families began to intermix and the town flourished. Oh, they still celebrated their own religions separately, except for one day each year when they got together and celebrated as one, realizing that God as they understood Him, was really all the same just seen through different eyes.