This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing, Haste, haste to bring him laud and the tears on my cheeks are surely odd.
The song, What Child Is This?, celebrates one of the most unlikely events in world history. A king is born… make that The King, in fact, The King of Kings is born in a barn and placed in a manger, and after more than 2000 years, the world celebrates it.
We gathered at the manger last night.
No. Not the real manger. No sounds or smells of barnyard animals. No. That would be too unlikely.
We gathered symbolically around a symbolic manger. In fact, quite honestly there wasn’t even a symbol for a manger there. On the contrary, there was a heated sanctuary filled with well-dressed people, many of whom were on stage singing and playing music with a running commentary stitching the songs into a theological tapestry. The scene was complete with candles passed out to the crowd, and at the finale, we lit them all before retreating to the cookies-n-punch refreshments waiting in the great hall.
But yeah. Other than those rather glaring exceptions, we gathered around the manger last night and sang.
And I wept.
I was moved to tears in my bones. Choked on the words. Could hardly sing a verse without falling apart in the presence of God.
Was it the musical talent?
Well, partly. I must hand it to those musicians. They brought a stellar show. If it had been a traveling act, I am sure they could have charged a hefty ticket price, and would get us all back again next year. But this was the musicians who attend this church putting on their best for Jesus and inviting the public to come join the celebration for free.
But that still doesn’t explain the unlikely tears.
Perhaps it was because I am just so raw with emotion, as we have filled our home with needy people that require Mr. and Mrs. Agent X’s constant attention day and night. And surely this too played a part, maybe even more than the talent, though I do not want to short-change that one bit. It so happens that every bed is filled at our house, and the infants need care round the clock, but the older foster child presents more complex issues that severe child abuse leaves in its wake and years of institutionalization that follow don’t fix. Yeah, we called the cops to our house last week! It’s like that.
But no. Even though these parts are significant, and feature large as parts, they do not sufficiently explain what brought me to tears. I mean, I have been to church before, I have sung these songs before, and really the heated auditorium and punch and cookies to follow are comforts that blunt the hard-edge reality of finding the unlikely King Jesus in a manger.
No. The kicker was also a tapestry of elements starting with the fact that I arrived just a minute late. Just after the lights were dimmed, and so an usher had to help me and my clan find seating amid the crowd that was already in place. But when I found my seat, I was greeted, in the dark, by nearly a dozen street-homeless people sitting just behind us – some of whom are good friends of mine! I was soooooo pleasantly surprised to find this unlikely group had made their way across town from the barn where we keep homeless people on cold winter nights to join the celebration of Jesus in the barn. Yes and surprising too since I am so deeply involved with foster care these days, I frequently go for weeks, sometimes months, without seeing some of these people anymore. I miss them! It was good to see them. It was good to worship with them. It was unlikely!
But then the child who warranted a call from the cops last week sat next to me during the show. She leaned on me for support when standing. And she sang! She sang the songs with us! In a lovely voice, I might add. And I wished Jesus would Return again before the song ended, because for once in her life, she was right where she needed to be (the house of God) doing the thing she needed to do (worship him for all she was worth), and I knew that when the songs were done we would return to the chaos! And anyway, I have nothing better to do than to join Jesus in the coming Judgment!
Someone pointed out my young friend Agent C was there! A young man I met in his troubled youth when he was 3 or 4 who became my close companion and buddie for many years, but whom I have not seen much of in the last few years. He is growing up! It was soooooo good to reconnect with him! It was unlikely!
No. We did not actually go to the manger. Not even, really, a symbolic one. But it seemed the unlikely barnyard came to the house of God! My friends! The ones I always struggle and fight to see come to church, but who are normally locked out! They were there! If only for an unlikely hour, they were there!
And of course the songs all feature the poor! Jesus was poor and lowly in that manger! Unlikely. The shepherds were poor and lowly, but invited to the birth of the King. Unlikely. The magi may have been rich, actually, but they humbled themselves and became unlikely sojourners for Jesus! And we celebrated these unlikely Bible characters with these unlikely people!
And then I suddenly remembered a Christmas Eve I spent in the psych ward.
Have you ever spent Christmas in a hospital or jail? Were you working there? Or were you a guest?
It sux either way. But I, of course, always tried to ease the sadness of it by helping the clients celebrate. And in the old days, when they were still allowed smoke breaks, I joined them on the smoker’s patio and tried to cheer them up with an extra smoke or whatever I could leverage. And there was this one Christmas Eve when we had this one woman who, though her mind was utterly broken beyond repair and suffered terribly from shyness, suddenly opened up to me on that smoker’s patio and let me know she liked to sing O Holy Night.
I drew everyone’s attention to her, and she began to sing so softly that we could hardly hear her. And her voice cracked with fright. But I began coaxing her and suddenly the other clients did too. And this woman then blossomed in the freezing night air, standing there in her slippers and bathrobe singing her heart out. She actually hit the high notes! Suddenly we fell on our knees and heard the angel’s singing! And it was the most beautiful unlikely moment I think I ever knew! Jesus arrived on that patio that night, and we all beheld the King. The unlikely KING in this unlikely place! And we did not want the moment to end, though we were freezing.
Yes, this memory unlocked the tears that flowed in this unlikely place (a church in Lubbock, Texas) where we worshipped the unlikely King who actually came to see what we were up to.
It was all so utterly unlikely, and I was unzipped by it.