We were victims of a three car bump up on the way to the Christmas Tree lighting festivities last night. Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and I were only twelve minutes away from our destination, sitting at a stop light sharing what was left of two large orders of Chic-Fil-A waffle fries, when we felt the impact. A car hit another car that finally hit us. The cops came, traffic was backed up, and people were honking horns and waving fingers at us. It wasn't pretty. But thirty very long minutes later, we arrived on Broad Street to see the 45 foot live tree, planted back in 1960 in front of what used to be the old post office, already lit. Standing tall and majestic. Waiting for us. We were twenty minutes late for the evening's festivities, but we made it.
Noticing a very large group of people moving as one down the street, away from St. Luke's Episcopal Church, I darted off to join them, calling for Lydia to follow.
"Where are they going?" Lydia screeched, pushing Charlie in his stroller as I forged on ahead with Hopey.
What a crazy question. Was it not obvious we did not have time to worry about details? Couldn't the kid see the throng of strangers moving away from us at a fairly fast clip of speed, likely headed toward something joyful? "I don't know where they're going," I pronounced, now pushing Hopey in her handicap stroller like a woman gone mad, my long black sweater flying behind me, "just hurry up and stay with me!"
She was panting rather loudly, trying to keep up: "Why are we running after them if we don't know where they're going?"
"Lord, normal teenagers like to follow the crowd, right?" For a split second I began to wonder why I was left to raise the one rebel. "Listen, you should be thanking me for helping you burn those Chic-Fil-A waffle fries."
"You look like Batman with a long cape," she snarked, trying to be funny. It wasn't funny. Bat woman might have been funny, but not Batman.
How appropriate it was that we all stopped in front of what used to be my church, the former First Baptist Church building. A quartet of men came out on the front porch to lead us in carols, and within seconds, the outdoor scene became a pseudo worship service as a mish-mashed group wondrously became one through familiar song. "Joy To The World", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", and "Away In A Manger" rang out through the voices of both the young and old, the rich and poor, the abled and disabled. Then it happened. Magic. The Christmas magic we all anticipate each year. The magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.
The tempo slowed and voices softened from that of a roaring wind to the gentlest breeze, permeating the night air with the song of all songs. However, what began as a delicate revering of the One for whom the song was written, crescendoed, without warning, into harmonies, growing louder and more powerful as each phrase of "Silent Night" was articulated....yes, what was initially a simple melody serenaded to the baby in a manger burst forth and erupted into the praise and celebration of Who that baby was. Husbands, in response, reached for the hand of their wives, parents bent down and squeezed their children, and nearly everyone wiped a tear or two.
Hope and Charlie are nine and six and still very much non-verbal. Even though they couldn't physically sing last night, their spirits were rejoicing in song on a level beyond what my mind can imagine. I felt it when they reached for me, hugging me and kissing me over and over again, smiles covering their faces, uninhibited love spilling out, covering me. No words needed. The Love of Christ.
You've experienced it too. It's what keeps us all pressing forward even when times are so tough, we don't know where our next breath is going to come from. It's what picks us up and dusts us off when we've been kicked down. It's the filler for those empty spaces left by loved ones who have gone before us, the glue in families who are living far a part, a certain peace that settles in the midst of chaos, and the flicker of light shining in the face of darkness. It's the baby in the manger, the cross on the hill, and the empty tomb. And it sneaks up on us and finds us in the most unexpected places. Last night, after a three car bump up, it found me in Cleveland, TN.
As you hurry and scurry about during the next days preparing for Christmas morning, my wish for you is that you find the magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.