|Hope and me seated on the floor, just outside the sanctuary at Broadstreet United Methodist Church|
It came in the mail, a rather ordinary invitation probably sent to the entire city. A mass mailer. Those things we all hate. The 5 X 7 card said my family was invited to attend the Christmas Eve service at Broadstreet United Methodist Church. My perfectly imperfect family invited to what would be a perfect Christmas Eve service, one that had probably been planned and rehearsed for weeks. I read it aloud to Lydia and actually smirked when I said: "Oh, OUR family is definitely not invited!" Then I tossed it in the garbage.
The entire week, I thought about that invitation. I couldn't get it out of my mind. 'Were we really invited?' I wondered. Would they accept two non-verbal kiddos who make lots of random (sometimes loud) noises? Would they show grace and mercy to a couple of little ones who are unable to sit still? There was only one way to find out.
We arrived at 10:45pm.
While unloading Hope and Charlie from the car, a homeless man approached us with his arms raised, "May I approach you, Ma'am?" I honestly didn't have any cash to give him, but I told him we were going to the church on the corner and asked if he was planning to attend. He said something I couldn't understand and shook his head. In response, Hope melted, likely feeling unsure about the stranger, so I ended up hauling all 50+ pounds of her down the sidewalk, up the steps, and into the church.
'Is our family invited?'
We made our way up into the balcony (uhhhm, yes, I was still carrying Hope) and onto the back row. Why they began the evening with a trumpet solo, I cannot fathom. But they did. Charlie, to everyone's surprise, immediately began to mimic the sound....and was actually louder and more shrill than the trumpeter. After being seated for all of two or three minutes, we quickly rose to our feet, scooted at maximum speed out of the balcony with horn baby in tow, and made our way back down the steps.
'Is our family invited?'
We decided to have a seat in the floor, just outside one of the doors leading into the sanctuary. We literally plopped right onto the floor. All was going fairly well, too, until the homeless guy waltzed in and made a bee line straight for us. I still couldn't understand anything he said, only something about "the children", but he seemed nice enough. And Hopey began making giggling noises at him. One of the church workers eventually came and offered the man a seat in the church. And after getting him situated, the worker returned to us, bent down on the floor, and spoke to both Hope and Charlie. The kindness in his voice caused me to well up and nearly bawl.
'Our family is invited.'
The message centered around the shepherds who were the first to get news about the newborn King of Kings. They were considered the lowest of the low in that time, the poorest of the poor. My mind immediately went to the homeless man. The shepherds were probably a lot like him. Sleeping outside must have made them dirty. I bet their hair was wiry and clothes tattered. The homeless man was seated in a pew in that church just like everyone else. He may of been seated next to someone accomplished, well educated, or wealthy. It didn't matter. He was listening to the message of Good News. The BEST news. The news that was and is for ALL people.
'The homeless man is invited.'
The evening ended with communion. An usher, not forgetting us, brought communion to us....in the floor. He didn't act like it was odd that everyone else in the church was seated in either a pew or a chair. Honestly, he didn't seem to notice. Following communion, candles were lit and the moment we'd all come for began. It was finally midnight; the chimes tolled twelve times. Christmas had officially arrived. We gathered our two special ones and took them into the sanctuary to be engulfed by the worship of the One who came to earth so OUR family could be invited....so the homeless man could be invited....so we ALL could be invited.
Hope couldn't contain her joy. Her arms flapped wildly as a smile took over her entire face. "This is for you," I whispered in her ear, having a difficult time containing my own delight, "Jesus came and did all of this for you."
Maybe you found an invitation in your mailbox this holiday season just like I did. Or maybe you didn't. The true invitation is an open one that doesn't come in the form of a 5 X 7 card, but instead, comes wrapped in swaddling cloths as a baby. God came to earth to change the world; He came because of His absolute boundless love for you!
YOU are invited!