I didn’t see you come in, but there you were all the same. Right side, fourth row, standing in front of me. Were you there as we sang, “God rest ye merry gentlemen?” If you were, I didn’t notice you. Forgive me. While singing “tidings of comfort and joy,” I failed to offer them to you.
When the band ceased, I stood to offer a Christmas welcome. I tried to look upon the gathered crowd, but the spotlights blinded me. I encouraged everyone to really listen to the lyrics of these familiar carols. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it can also breed forgetfulness. These songs tell the most amazing story if only we would properly tune our attention. Were you able to hear?
I first noticed you when we stood to sing “Silent Night,” our candlelight anthem. Along the aisles, the ushers lit the candles. One by one, flames leapt to life. You were on the inside of your row, sitting alone, a chair between you and Izzy. Forgive me again; I initially thought you were a child. You were barely taller than Izzy and thin. You held your unlit candle, standing stone still, a charcoal shadow in a pool of lights. With whispered encouragement from her mother, Izzy brought her light to you. Trembling, trembling you tilted your wick to meet her flame. And we sang,
Silent night, Holy night,
Son of God, Love's pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Did you sing? I couldn’t tell. You were a statue in front of me, the only movement the anxious flame in your folded hands. Perhaps you were heeding my request--listening, listening.
With candles extinguished, the music continued telling us that old gospel story:
“Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
As I fumbled with the harmony, I continued to watch you. You drew your dark peacoat around your slumped shoulders and you gripped your purse tightly. Your private thoughts were nearly audible: “Am I safe to leave? If I go now, perhaps no one will notice me.” You nervously shifted from foot to foot. You briefly surveyed the congregation calculating your escape, questioning, questioning. With surprising swiftness, you disappeared.
I longed to stop you, to put a hand upon your shoulder and invite you to stay. Like normal, my logic prevailed. What woman, especially one so afraid, wants a strange man three times her size to bar her escape? Like the smoke from your candle, you were gone in an instant. Christmas Eve evanescence.
I returned my attention to pondering Immanuel, God with us. Forgive me, forgive me, thrice forgive me. In pondering Immanuel, I forgot to show you Immanuel. I forgot that in His church, Jesus is more than lyric; He is life.