Christmas panic is already here! I am grateful for all those who give of themselves in worship leadership: music directors, clergy, worship committees, altar guilds, choir members, musicians, ushers, acolytes, crucifers, band members, and thank God for good sound technicians. With worship it literally takes a village and that’s the point. True worship focuses on God as the audience, the congregants as the actors, and everyone connected to worship leadership as the stage hands that facilitate the worshiping gifts of the congregation toward a Holy God. Too many worship experiences have devolved into a feast for the parishioners, and a spectacle for spectators. The use of religious language and music has too often become a “production” for show-and-tell entertainers for consumeristic congregants whose primary interest is what’s-in-it-for-me.
Why is this on my mind right now? Well, it’s not Thanksgiving yet and already Music and Worship people have that “look” on their faces about Christmas. It’s a cross between glee, panic, and frustration because in so many ways music does carry the season. I sympathize with all the people who are doing their very best to make sure the holidays are bright and worshipful for everyone. My gratitude for all of the stagehands that help us offer God our best worship should go without saying, but I must say it. I must say it now before Advent and Christmas seasons arrive because the aftermath leaves these selfless people with too little energy to even embrace a hearty “Thanks!”
So I say, “Thank you,” ahead of time. It is Thanksgiving season after all! There’s a great story of the depth of meaning that comes from offering the Christ Child as a gift every Christmas to a world that so desperately needs Him. It is a message of how poignant and important our yearly offering is:
It was Sunday, Christmas. Our family had spent the holidays in San Francisco with my husband’s parents. But in order for us to be back at work on Monday, we found ourselves driving 400 miles back home to Los Angeles on Christmas Day.
We stopped for lunch in King City. The restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family and ours were the only children. I heard Erik, my one year old, squeal with glee: “Hithere.” (Two words he thought were one.) “Hithere.” He pounded his fat baby hands – whack, whack – on the metal high chair tray. His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and chirped, and giggled, and then I saw the source of his merriment…and my eyes could not take it all in at once.
A tattered rag of a coat – obviously bought by someone else, eons ago – dirty, greasy, and worn…baggy pants – spindly body – toes that poked out of would-be shoes…a shirt that had ring-around-the-collar all over and a face like none other…gums as bare as Erik’s.
“Hi there baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.” Our meal came, and the cacophony continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room: “Do ya know patty cake? Atta boy…Do ya know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo!”
Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hithere.” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband, Dennis, was humiliated. Even our six-year-old said, “Why is that old man talking so loud?” Dennis went to pay the check, imploring me to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. “Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik.” I bolted for the door.
It soon was obvious that both the Lord and Erik had other plans. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, walking to side-step him – and any air he might be breathing. As I did so, Erik, all the while with his eyes riveted to his new best friend, leaned far over my arm, reaching with both arms to a baby’s “pick me up” position. In a split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight I came eye-to-eye with the old man. Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide.
The bum’s eyes both asked and implored, “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need for me to answer since Erik propelled himself from my arms to the man’s. Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship. Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, and pain, and hard labor – gently, so gently, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back.
I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.” Somehow I managed, “I will,” from a throat that contained a stone.
He pried Erik from his chest – unwillingly, longingly – as though he was in pain. I held my arms open to receive my baby and again the gentleman addressed me. “God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.”
I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik back in my arms, I ran for the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and why I was saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.”
God bless every worship leader this coming holiday season. Every year you graciously give “your baby” – “The Baby” to a world that needs to hear the Incarnation’s message afresh. Thanks to you we each receive our Christmas gift. Bless you and thanks for all that you do!