The roads are slick, the pews around us largely empty. But the kids are keyed up over robes with rope belts.
I wasn't expecting enthusiasm over a throw-back Christmas pageant. I should really know better. I should know that most of my life operates with the gears in reverse. Lots of things don't make sense anymore, but the surprises are mostly good.
The kids and teenagers take their places on the stage. A few are at ease. Most are awkward, uncertain, their eyes trained to the floor. They falter and speak too fast. The skit is more real to them than a Christmas program was ever supposed to be and I hope we all just let our hearts be light. I hope we reflect peace to them, our gift back for all the ways they stand risky before us, their entire lives dangling from their faded shirt sleeves.
Now, I know some things. I'm learning.
I know they lack and they try, they love and hope. They feel much of what I felt when I was fifteen and the world somehow seemed both uncertain and so *roll-my-eyes* mundane. I know they wear the very image of the Christ who came to walk with us. I know now that I don't get to decide where I see Him.
Their voices waver in the mic and I feel it in my chest, that low weight of truth - you can't really love something that you don't really know.
The ghost of Shannans past swirl, then settle as a lump in my throat. I used to be so much more uncomfortable around people who were even a little different than I. It made me fidgety, embarrassed by my doe-eyed innocence, my stubbornness, my pride, whatever it was that kept me from acknowledging our kinship, the fragility of our shared humanity, our frailties and fault-lines, all our edges, unevenly frayed.
I never used to see these threads stitched between us. I'm weepy with gratitude that in this moment, I'm a single step further from my blindness. I can't stop falling in love with this stripped-down faith where God is nothing short of imperative and nothing more than everything. I find that in these faces around me.
Our pretenses keep falling to the floor, smashing to bits, and there's just no way around walking in this everyday smallness. This is the greatness we were made for. This is our call. I'm teary, a tiny baby for all I don't know and all the ways I miss out on love.
It's the third Sunday of Advent. The shepherds are restless, the narrator's words are a blur, the angels are nearing revolt. Production costs run in the red and the sound system is lurchy and fitful.
But this is their offering - the guts to bare their sharp-edged story to the rest of us. They give what might look like very little and it changes who we are because we find our place in a story as raw as the birth itself.
They stand before us in bed-sheet angel gowns, a vision of Emmanuel, and it all makes perfect sense.