With the holidays now at least mid-stride on this day after Christmas, I have my first moments apart from family, community and church for reflection on this annual fast paced but joyful season of celebration. Our family schedule is even more compressed given my wife’s choice of being married on December 23rd some 36 years ago; as well, our church life is intense given the enormity of an annual outreach called “Christmas for the City.”
This multi-day off campus mega party requires an extreme make over, as three floors of an historical building are transformed into a Christmas Gala, with numbers unpredictable by design. Doors are flung open suddenly for walk-in guests, many of whom are homeless, though attracting media, dignitaries and the well-heeled.
Other than the time spent observing the many friends and family who gathered with total strangers to share treasured moments, or the excitement of children in Santa’s workshop building toys of their own, one instance stands out to me as making all others even more worth while.That moment was one of serendipity as is often the case in the Kingdom.
During the last evening of the celebration I felt an inspiration to slip from the stage to which I had been invited as mayor, previously welcoming our community to this outdoor Christmas Eve candlelight service. My attention had been distracted by a sparse group of individuals who had begun gathering one by one to watch from across the four lane street that separated our event from our city’s transportation center.
One lady in particular had caught my eye from the stage, with an apparent interest, intense enough to be felt across the wide street that lay between us. As I approached her to explain what was happening between both the music she had heard and the gospel message now being delivered, I offered her my candle and asked if she might want to be a part of the service before her bus arrived. Concerned that if she joined our group she could miss her bus, she gratefully conceded to receive the candle on her side of the street, offering a shy but inquisitive glance as to how it might be lit for her?
I then approached another individual some yards away, possibly carrying in his rather scuffed back pack all his earthly possessions, his body language indicating that any inquiry of him would be intrusion. I cautiously asked if he might have a cigarette lighter. When he realized that my inquiry was an invitation to participate in the party, he quickly unzipped one pouch of his pack and offered to light the candle of the stranger who had by now moved up next to him.
Within moments another individual from the service across the street brought additional candles, which were then lit by Jimmy, the owner of the lighter whom I had come to know by name at this point. Eventually other individuals who just moments before were simply sharing the same sidewalk were now huddled with their hands held over their individual flames, sharing the light sparked by the once withdrawn Jimmy. These momentary acquaintances, humans, spiritual beings for whom Christ died were now fully engaged with each other on this brisk Christmas Eve winter’s night.
Somehow the annual candlelight service, otherwise a rote religious tradition among people of plenty, became a moment of true community, if not communion between a few strangers awaiting an affordable transport on an otherwise meaningless evening in their life of poverty.
God is good!