(Our E-pistle is guest authored this week by Marta Rose, who I thank for writing. If anyone else wishes to pen an E-pistle, please let me know. I’ll do them most weeks, but would like our E-pistles to become multi-voiced this year…)
I noticed the kid with the pink hair first when his family walked into the sanctuary Christmas Eve. They sat right up front, the pink-haired boy and his brother, who both looked to be in their teens. Their mother and little sister sat in the pew right behind them. I wanted to tell the boy I loved his hair, but I was wrangling Micah and two of his friends. Still, I kept watching them through the service – a new family, sitting right up front, one of them with pink hair! They were fascinating.
Then during the Prayers of the People, Michael asked us to share the names of those we were missing this Christmas Eve. As the congregation quietly called out names, I saw the little girl – maybe nine or ten years old – weeping in her mother’s arms. At first I thought she was just tired and cranky, like my three boys who were wriggling and whispering beside me. But quickly I could see that this girl’s tears were ones of real sorrow. As she rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, her face tightened in waves of grief. After a few minutes, she got up and sat in her brother’s lap. He held her close and patted her back while she cried.
When the service was over, her other brother helped her on with her coat. Before I had a chance to catch them, they were gone.
“Who was that family?” I asked Michael as soon as I got downstairs. He was standing in his robes by the front door, greeting people as they left.
“The ones in the front pews?”
“Yeah, the boy with the pink hair, the girl who was crying?”
He nodded. “They just left. I asked the mom if they were OK. She said they lost their father, her husband, just a month ago.”
All around us in the crowded lower narthex, people were smiling and hugging and calling out, Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
“Wow.” I sighed. “I thought something like that. Do you know who they were?”
“I didn’t get their names.” Michael’s face twisted with frustration. “I should have gotten their names, but it was such a rush as they were leaving.”
It’s now almost Epiphany, and I can’t stop thinking about this family. I hope they received some comfort from our service. I hope they felt welcome, and that if they return, they know they will be greeted warmly.
But as I said to Michael the next day over Christmas dinner, it’s OK that we don’t know who they were.
“It was like a visitation,” I said. “I’m sure there was a gift for us in their coming.”
I just love the messiness and wonder of the incarnation, of God’s “coming to us to share our common lot” in the form of a child, born in a lowly stable. For me, among the greatest gifts of the incarnation is to infuse awe into the ordinary, to make me see in a new light that which has become dull and routine.
That family’s visitation on Christmas Eve felt a bit like that – in their presence, everything felt both more somber and more radiant – the Christmas Eve service I’ve been attending for more than a decade, the squirrelly boys by my side, the faces of my church family, the familiar Christmas carols.
The wonder of the incarnation is God’s gift to us, through Christ, but I am realizing, as we approach Epiphany, that our gifts to Christ can also help each other see anew. That family on Christmas Eve were Magi of sorts, bearing their sorrow as a gift to the Christ child and to all of us who shared it with them, in however small a measure that night.
I hope you will join me in praying for this family and their loss. I also hope you will join me in thinking about what gifts you have to bring to Jesus this Epiphany, and how your gifts might illuminate all our lives.
See you in church,
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