It’s been two years now since we arrived late for the Christmas Eve service at our church. People who know me know that I am habitually early and I don’t handle lateness well. However, on this night, one child needed a complete wardrobe change just as we were getting in the car so our departure was significantly delayed.
We walked into a dark church; the music had already started. It is not easy for a family of six to quietly and respectfully find an empty row in a packed sanctuary so we quickly made our way to the very, very back row. Two of my children immediately started whining and crying because they couldn’t see the stage. I reminded them in a forced hush that we were here to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, hoping they would turn their attention to the focus of this service. Meanwhile, I engaged in my own inner dialogue, attempting to unearth a more worshipful attitude myself.
It occurred to me that I was not the only person running late on Christmas Eve. I imagine Joseph was quite frustrated as he knocked on every door in Bethlehem only to be turned away. He was too late; the rooms were all occupied by those who arrived in town much earlier in the day. With every new rejection his anxiety must have increased as his wife drew closer and closer to the moment of delivering her baby. Finally, Joseph was offered a stable. I imagine Joseph tried not to feel like an abysmal failure as he forced a smile to his face and announced to Mary that he had found them a place. That night the Son of God was born to the tune of donkeys and sheep rustling in the hay.
But what would have happened had Joseph and Mary arrived earlier in the day? What if they had found a room in an inn? I can almost guarantee that had dirty, stinky shepherds with a bit of a wild look in their eyes attempted to gain entrance to an inn so they could worship the Baby King they would be tossed out, refused, rebuffed, rejected or perhaps even arrested. The message of the shepherds would have been lost–that Jesus came for the poor and lowly, the undesirable, for everyone. Perhaps God orchestrated Joseph’s tardy arrival that day just so that Jesus would be born in that stable and not a secure hotel room.
I wondered if my family’s own tardiness was part of God’s plan. I believe that sometimes an unwelcome change in my plans averts disaster or sets in motion events of which I will forever remain unaware. This time I asked God to show me a reason we were relegated to the very, very back row, squarely behind a post, no less. My eyes opened and I waited with eager expectation, waiting for God to reveal himself.
The service continued, beautiful and meaningful. We sang several old Christmas carols, favorites of our family. The service ended and we were dismissed. The elderly man in front of us turned to Luke, my five year old son, and said, “My absolute favorite part of the service was hearing you sing.”
There it was! That was the reason we were late! The man in front of us could not stand easily so he sat through the music while the rest of us stood on our feet. This put his ears right at the height of a five-year-old’s voice.
It was such a brief moment, five seconds really, but I realized that the moment not only answered my prayer this night but was ten years in the making.
When my children were babies, I sang them to sleep. Sometimes, their Daddy drew bedtime duty. He also wanted to sing to them. He opened his storehouse of children’s songs and looked around at the bleak offerings. He finally happened upon a handful of songs that were slower in tempo and that he could remember all the words for. These songs were “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Joy to the World.” My children know the first verses to all these songs better than most because to this day–through December, March, August and all the months in between–we sing these songs at bedtime.
A five-year-old in the back row of church cannot see the words of the songs displayed on the screens, and even if he could, he cannot read yet. However, he was able to sing the old familiar Christmas hymns into an old man’s ear because these songs were taught in our home ten years too early to prepare us for the Christmas Eve that we were five minutes too late.
Guest Contributor Cassie Johnson is a wife and mother of four growing children. Her children often tell her that she is weird, crazy and just not normal…high praise and validation that she is doing her job well. When the children are in school she models the explosive components of certain chemicals while teaching elementary science or can often be found in corrections facilities around the metro, not creating any explosions whatsoever, but offering the hope of Christ Jesus to those who have lost their way.