Of Jingle Bells and Redeeming the Pirates

Warmth and light filled the room, while snowflakes danced in flurries at the windows.

To the right of the platform, a giant Christmas tree twinkled hundreds of golden lights from its branches.

The twin video monitors scrolled matching electronic snowflurries and encouragement.

Christmas had come to CityChurch.

I sat near the front in the nearly empty auditorium while George prepared to play the keyboard, watching 4 or 5 adults move around the room getting ready for the service.  High-energy updated Christmas carols fill the speakers, worshipful in their intensity.

Later that afternoon I would find myself across the street in a massive dilapidated warehouse, boxing hundreds of books, toys and clothes for kids who live…downtown.  Without a lot of resources.

Behind me, the pastor’s wife walked in with 2 of her young daughters.  Warm and secure in their winter finery, they giggled and laughed while a teenager teased them about crushing on boys.  She happens to be white; her daughters black.  No one notices, in this culture of love, service and frequent adoption.  Many of the kids adopted by CityChurch families were once kids on our bike food routes and in our Bible club programs.  When life falls apart, it seems like God taps someone on the shoulder to step in and help.  We adopt kids we know.  No one plans it; it just happens.

Next troops in the adult Sunday school class, fresh from meeting in the cafeteria.  A CityChurch mix of skin tones, with clothes ranging from suburban to ghetto.  Some faces ravaged by life; others serene.  After class, they all look calm and peaceful.  An older Hispanic woman is crying; she takes the seat next to me.  The second row where I sit fills in with black and brown faces, mostly women and children.  We hug each other.

At the back of the church I see a 13 year old black ballerina.  Oh, she’s dressed for church, but in a bun and full stage makeup.  A former dance mom always knows.  Her brand-new sweatshirt reads “The Nutcracker.”  Today, while I am boxing books and toys, she will be pirouetting before hundreds.  Her mother doesn’t share her skin tone or genetic makeup either, but I have never known a more loyal dance mom.  (And I’ve known a few).  Our ballerina was probably once a kid on someone’s van route.  I don’t know her story’s beginning, but I believe it will end gloriously.

Suddenly a wave of small children come in from preschool Sunday school, laughing and talking.  Playing with each other without regard to height, gender or skin tone.  By now the auditorium is almost full.  Across the way, a white face and brown face, belonging to 2 of our female teenage church musicians, enter the sanctuary arm in arm.

The state of the art video cameras begin to roll behind me.

In the corner, our AV guy, the pastor’s brother , is DJ-ing with headphones on.  Unaware of anyone else, he dances to the beat.  He is middle-aged, balding and white, but the music is spot-on.

As the service starts, the pastor takes his seat…at the drums.  Today he is shaking his official sleigh bells radically; two Hispanic preschoolers in the row in front of me shake the jingle bells on their Sunday school candycanes in time with him.

Later, he will take the pulpit and talk about how God sent the Christmas angels to…shepherds.  Not middle-class, suburban, cartoon-character shepherds. But the down-and dirty, the pirates and construction-workers of their day.  Making the point, without words, that God’s priority is the loner, the outcast, the desperate.  The not-so-well-dressed, not-so-respected.

It is a message that resonates here.

Everyone in the room is a believer, or considering becoming one.

Trusting God is something we work on.  Trusting people is harder.

But if we can be together as a community through the ups and downs of life, it gets a little easier.

And if we can address isues of race and poverty and crime and jail and marriage and sexuality and pain with love and wisdom, we are stronger together.

Our wisdom comes from the Bible.

Our love comes from the Holy Spirit.

Our identity comes from Jesus.

Everything else is negotiable.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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