As Christmas zips itself shut, the gospel goes on.
A layer of dirt caked the nursing home windows, which overlooked both a traffic accident and a Walmart.
I liked singing there in the company of a few hearty Baptists, responsible for filling the entire room with sound. We sang as loud as we wanted, from open faces, while Sandra played through the carols on a thin Suzuki keyboard.
Our pastor stood to direct the afternoon Christmas service. We joined him in prayer because we knew the kind of power that comes of the Bible. Otherwise, we would have stayed home watching movies. We know the Bible moves like arrows, piercing to the division of soul and spirit.
What we didn’t know was the debt we owed to the standing man, our pastor, who delivers the truth to us in a hefty, biweekly dosage. When we sit apathetic to God’s perspective, he wakes us up. This time of year he guards us against the potential flippancies of the season.
“These aren’t stories we read every year so that we’ll get a sentimental feeling about them,” he said to those assembled Tuesday.
Indeed not. A quick scan of the room yielded a vision of about a dozen patients, the majority of them catatonic. The wallpaper border repeated and repeated and repeated: four peaches and a clay pot. A sentimental feeling wouldn’t do. So many wheelchairs and blank looks, repeating like the peaches on the paper. We needed something better than sentimentality.
I smiled at a woman across the room. She caught it and it held: her eyes lighted, her lips lifted.
Did they hear?
The pastor spoke about the wise men who came bringing gifts for the baby Jesus. Like the rest of the Christmas story, every little piece of it has explosive meaning. None of it is haphazard. The men brought gold because Christ is King, and they brought myrrh because Christ would be sacrificed.
We suddenly recalled that Christmas, though expensive money-wise, is also expansive theology-wise. Easter and Christmas come all in one basket. And the prospect of raising the dead began to mean something there in the nursing home with the dirty windows. “To be wise,” the pastor said, “seek Christ.”
My dad leaned over to me in wonder and said, “I’ve never heard that about the wise men.”
We all stood as testimony that God raises the dead, all us open-faced Baptists with loud-singing lungs. We used to have hearts that couldn’t care less about Christ. But then we got all tickled about the story of the wise men. It exploded in our imaginations: It means life and death. How could we not trespass there, into the terrain of the catatonic, hoping they would hear?
“I hope we will all be in heaven together worshiping the One who died for us,” said the pastor.
And hope must be a ferocious beast, to stand up and preach seeming sentimentality to a room of people without ears. I wondered if the attendants wheeling people in and out recognized the pastor’s heaven-hope as the ambition of a fool. But maybe they heard, too.