Monday, December 22, 2008

Bit Players at Christmas

I am sure the challenge each Christmas is to find a newness in the story that we have heard or told time after time.

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.


Liza Lee Miller said...

Words worthy of much thought, Donna. Thank you.

Lynne said...

If we believe that we are ALL made in the image and likeness of God then we should look for God in everyone. Thank you for the reminder.

NCmountainwoman said...

Certainly a thought-provoking post. We all need to look more closely, especially during this season of great need.

Anvilcloud said...

Wonderful post KGM!!

Climenheise said...

As Liza says, worthy of much thought. I have wondered more than once about how well our public action fits with our worship. Not well, I fear. What long-term change did the experience bring in the congregation?

KGMom said...

Daryl--the church described is NOT one that we ended up joining. Since the events described in the post, the church in the story has experienced a decline. To survive, it has joined with several other churches. They had other problems--the miniter we liked left soon after we were there--and attendance dropped off.
Perhaps all those events help demonstrate that a church that serves "the least of these" stays vibrant.

Ruth said...

A wonderful Christmas post Donna. I like your comment too where you say, a church that serves "the least of these" stays vibrant
Christ came for the least of these.

Jayne said...


Anvilcloud said...

I'm making the rounds to wish all of my blog friends a Merry Christmas!

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

One of the least appealing things about "the community of saints" is that it is self selecting. I remember people who came to my church who "didn't quite fit" usually due to class and education. Subtle ways were evident which were used to exclude them.(We were far to liberal not to be subtle) It is a difficult problem to be more accepting personally and institutionally. It has bothered me thoughout my involvement with churches.

Beverly said...

Your post shoud be printed in every church bulletin and magazine around. You have pointed out the hypocrisy that exists in churches today. I heard someone say once that we love God and Jesus as much as we love the perosn who is down and out.

This is a wonderful post.

Dog_geek said...

Great post, and a good reminder to all of us this time of year. Thanks!

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Merry Christmas and all the best in the new year for all your family.

Mary said...

Thank you, Donna. Your wonderful post reminded me of Christmas Eve 1998 when Gina and a large group of her high school friends collected gifts for a homeless man they all knew...and delivered their gifts to the vacant gas station where he resided.

Oh, well. Just a memory...

Merry Christmas to you and to those you love.


Laurie said...

Very thought provoking post. Well said.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

To change the subject. . . Do you know of this website

Beth said...

Beautiful post.

JeanMac said...

Can't add much to what the others have said. I hope we all remember this for everyday.