It was one of those churches that looked like a Currier and Ives print…or a Norman Rockwell Painting…Steeple… Belfry…Organ…the whole nine yards…twenty miles away from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
I remember how grateful I felt that night. Grateful for my young family, and grateful for the privilege of serving this congregation. My wife (as she always did) organized everything and played the piano. A Royal Conservatory of Music prodigy, she played every hymn for our flock of 40 souls as if she was playing for the Queen…or should I say…the King.
Just six nights before, my 6 year old daughter sang her heart out with a massive choir (a dozen kids) My 2 year old son strode down the aisle, bedecked in an aluminum foil crown and his bathrobe….bearing gifts from afar ( a Kleenex box wrapped with the rest of the aluminum foil). His one line was…
HAPPA BIRFFDAY BABY JEEZUS
He nailed it.
But this night was about the nexus between the old and the new. We gathered to pray in the New Year, and I was poised to preach. As per usual, I prepared a message with just enough evidence of scholarly jargon to validate myself and ingratiate myself to the people…and a modicum of humility… and not a little anxiety… that I might actually say something that might touch God’s people
As I built to a crescendo that I fancied might rival the power of the mighty cataract of the Niagara… there was a disturbance at the back and I completely lost my train of thought and stumbled on my words.
HE came in
I’m certain he had no idea where he was or how he got there. The church building was near the downtown and it is likely that he had wandered from some bar to our door.
Heads turned …A congregation of 40 is quick to notice anyone new. It’s impossible to not notice someone new if he is drunk and wobbling his way to the front.
He plopped down in the front pew. A delicate bouquet wafted its way to the pulpit. He belched a few times and then yawned loud enough to raise Lazarus…then passed out. As I waxed eloquent casting vision for the coming year, he tossed and grunted and snored.
After what seemed like an eternity, I ended my sermon. We all rose (nobody merely stands in a church…we ‘rise’) Judy went to the piano and we sang God’s praises and called upon His Name.
Suddenly my irritation and distraction gave way to an overwhelming sense of love for the strange guest crashed out on the front pew. I walked over, took off my suit jacket and rolled it up as a pillow for his head and went right on singing. The congregation didn’t miss a beat. We said our amen and stepped off into the New Year.
After everyone left, I let him it ‘sleep it off’ a little longer, and then gently woke him and saw to it that he got home safely.
I never saw him again…but then again… I’ve seen him many times, in many churches and many other places over the decades.
He is the audience of One
He’s the only one Who matters
He’s the one right in front of you and I every day
But when did we see You Lord?
This Christmas season I take my cue from the little Wise Man in the aluminum crown
HAPPA BIRFFDAY BABY JEEZUS!