The best Christmas is the unexpected Christmas. After all, that’s what the first Christmas was, an unexpected, cosmic intersection of the natural and the supernatural - in the shepherd’s field, the manger stall and the arms of a bewildered new mother and father.
We nearly obscure the power and the beauty of the first Christmas with all our busyness and trappings today. And yet, small glimpses of the marvels of that first Christmas happen even now.
I once caught such a glimpse at a city mission. It was Moms Club, a weekly morning meeting where women come to hear a message, work on completing a GED or learn about parenting. On the last meeting before the holidays, each woman was given a large grocery bag filled with necessities. Sometimes they even receive something extra, something special like laundry detergent.
The bitter cold outside was offset by a furnace that wouldn’t quit on the inside. The room was packed with women shoulder to shoulder, women in old coats and old clothes. The furnace circulated the smell of hard work, poverty and wet boots. There were women who had children, women who had health problems, women who had prison records and women who had nothing but the clothes on their backs. The room was sweltering, the crowd restless.
As a woman welcomed everyone from up front, the crackling sound system, as weary as the women, muffled what must have been an introduction. A woman in a black cape swept up the center aisle. She planted herself firmly on the riser and instantly owned the room.
She drew a breath and began to sing. “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.”
Her voice was magnificent. Strong and pure, it was a voice that belonged to the heavens.
“It is the night, of our dear Savior’s birth.”
Her voice soared, filling the room with a rare, exquisite beauty. The stunning elegance and artistry made listeners dare not draw a breath for fear of missing a fraction of a second.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
Her voice ascended through the clouds, looped toward earth and soared again and again. She was on the final verse now. Could she possibly reach higher or stronger? “O night, O holy night, O night divine.” Had there been crystal in the building, it would have shattered into a million shards - and then reassembled itself with joy.
She whisked down the aisle and vanished out the door.
Who was she?
Someone mumbled a name. “She’s passing through town and came from the airport just to sing at the mission. She’s returning from an engagement at the Metropolitan Opera.”
I have never been to the Met. I doubted those around me would be going anytime soon, either. But the Met had come to us, the tired, the worn and the weary. For a few minutes it seemed as though the supernatural had infused the natural. Like that very first Christmas, heaven had once again reached down to earth.