A cute elderly couple in matching Christmas sweaters stepped aside so that my family could slip into the pew to their left. Their Santa Claus hats seemed a bit much for a Christmas Eve candlelight service, but it was the season. Just about everything that could be decorated gets decorated during this time of year, so why not be a bit festive with the top of your head?
Somewhere, a handful of musicians played woodwinds through a gentle medley of familiar holiday songs. I sat back in the pew and took in my first relaxing breath of that demanding day. Last minute shopping, cleaning the house, and helping to prepare for our annual December 24 th gathering of the extended Kimmel family had kept both Darcy and me jumping since dawn. We had both looked forward to this capstone to our Christmas Eve celebration; this hushed hour when we would sit as a family in the soothing reverie of our church to worship our way into the first few minutes of Christmas Day.
I tend to look at people through the context of their bigger lives. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard of what I do, but I’ve always found it difficult to separate a person from the things within their life that tend to define them. As I looked around the sanctuary, I couldn’t help but take in the burdens and challenges of the folks that had gathered to sing and pray to the familiar chords of Christmas.
The audience covered the gambit from minimum wage to off-the-chart wealthy, young to old, rudimentary to the highly educated, and spiritually clueless to ecclesiastical giants. And as I thought about the stories behind many of the people who surrounded me that night, I realized why we all had gathered under the same banner at this sacred moment in time. We were all drawn together by the enormous tug of Christmas.
Like the guy sitting by himself toward the back of the church. That’s the way he’d been sitting most of his life. It wasn’t a case of loneliness as much as the choice he had made to be a professional loner. He had spent his life working the nightshift of a security guard. It was a decision to cast his lot with those who work for very little money keeping an eye on someone else’s prized possessions. At this juncture in his life the prized possessions happen to be automobiles he couldn’t afford to own himself. He had never married. His schedule didn’t lend itself to meeting decent prospects.
Bowing their heads just a few rows ahead of us was a kind couple that had been handed some unusually difficult cards to play. They both came from good stock and had fallen in love as teenagers with all the best intentions for their future. But one poorly timed moment of affection during their last year of high school sent them to the wedding altar a lot sooner than they had planned. The baby made his debut shortly after they legitimized his last name. They were parents long before they had a chance to become seasoned lovers. It was hard on their families, their reputations, and the first decade of their married life. Their love child was grown and gone now. It was amazing that they had made it this far still hand-in-hand.
And then there was that unassuming couple with the Midas touch sitting close to each other about half way back. It seems that they had been singled out to channel the lion’s share of their income to eternal causes all over the world. They had been known to move heaven and earth for worthy efforts in Africa, South America, and the Far East long before they’d ever think of their own needs. They sat their in their off-the-rack outfits humming along with the prelude.
You’d have to be privy to a lot of insider information to realize that one of the couples sitting in the pew behind us was in the process of being audited by the government for improprieties a former partner had committed in his personal life. They were being badgered by the government’s attorneys for all kinds of information that had nothing to do with their financial review. The attorneys made life miserable for them simply because they could. And since certain entities can’t be ignored, these good people had been held hostage by irrational demands for several months.
All of us gathered to celebrate Christmas. And why shouldn’t we? Christmas was the story of all of us. The night watchman could identify with the lonely shepherds. The couple that was pregnant on their wedding day shared at least a bit of a kindred spirit with Mary and Joseph. So did the couple getting audited. After all, it was a government census that had turned Mary and Joseph’s complicated situation completely upside down. The Wise Men knew what it was like to travel thousands of miles to bring riches to strangers.
But it wasn’t the similarities to the characters in the Christmas story that brought us all out at midnight on Christmas Eve. Rather it was the baby that held the focus of all of those characters that wondrous night so long ago. Mary and Joseph changed the diapers of the Messiah. It was low paid shepherds working the night shift that ended up taking turns holding the Redeemer of the World. The Wise Men traveled thousands of miles to set up a trust account for the King of Kings. All of them found a greater meaning to their otherwise unpretentious lives through their connection to the baby in the manger. He was the child for all seasons who came to die for people from all walks of life. He was the universal Soldier who came to be the unilateral Savior.
Jesus is the great equalizer. Regardless of what we bring to the moment, He offers in return all that we need. And on that Christmas Eve night, as I looked around at all of those nice people who had gathered to celebrate the birth of this amazing little baby I couldn’t help but join in harmony—not only with their voices, but with their spirits—as we sang, “O come let us adore Him.”
© Copyright 2005 Tim kimmel