And I am also sure there are times that we get so caught up in the demands of the season that we completely miss the arrival of the Christ child, albeit in a guise that we were not expecting.
When my husband and I first moved to our city, we went church hunting and shopping. We settled (for a time) on a church within the city limits. We liked the minister and his thoughtful challenging sermons. We were not overwhelmed with the congregation’s friendliness, but figured maybe it would just take a bit of time.
One Sunday during Advent, a small crisis occurred. This church was some 20 blocks from the center of town, but it was on a main street, and as all churches are, it was a magnet for people in need.
That Sunday, a seedy looking man came wandering in. He asked one of the greeters for help. She pushed him aside, intent on her duties of welcoming and greeting people coming to church. Next, the seedy man encountered one of the more senior church members. That member pushed the man aside, saying—you’ll have to see the pastor, but he’s busy right now.
(photo from the BBC)
Finally, the man in need encountered the pastor. Now, it was just time for church to begin. SO, the pastor who was donning his robe temporized and asked the man to wait around until after church. With that last brush off, the seedy needy man left the church and went back out into the winter cold.
Something about the pathos of that moment struck the pastor. As it happened one of the carols for the service that day was “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”. Whatever the pastor had planned to preach got shelved, and instead he spent the time musing on the well-known words of the carol.
He slowly read through the first verse. . .
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
As he concluded those words, he just paused and then he said—yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. . .OR DOES IT?
Well, the church sat in complete silence. And it was a guilty silence.
Then when as a congregation we sang the carol, it was all we could do to choke out the words:
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
painting of Nativity by Gerrit van Honthorst
Sometimes we encounter the Christ Child just as we are rushing around getting ready to announce his coming. Or just as we are greeting members and friends of the church, or just as we are getting ready to preach the word about the good news.
The moment of grace that Sunday was that the pastor redirected his words to make us connect the words we sang with our actions. Of course, we would much rather focus on a helpless newborn baby. We would much rather listen to singing angels. We would much rather ogle mysterious visitors bearing gifts than deal with just one of the bit players of Christmas.
At this time of year, remember the bit players--they have far more need of our attention than angels, or shepherds, or wise men. It may be that in the bit players, we encounter the Christ Child.