One wise man, two angel choirs and a bunch of seeking shepherds
Christmas kind of creeps up on you doesn’t it? Almost before the Thanksgiving sales are over, kettles are out and the collecting begins. This year there seem to be more solicitors around (or very close to) the Army kettles than before. Hoping, one supposes, that some of the esteem in which the Army is held by the public will “rub off!”
Judging by the requests for donations that come through the mail, everyone seems to be after the dollars that we usually donate to a favorite charity. Even within the Army several units compete for the same discretionary dollars. And–with the 9/11 tragedy and all the fundraising associated with that–the impact on our Christmas efforts remains to be seen.
Yet, in the midst of the seeming sudden imminence of Christmas, recognition of the spirit of Christmas is facilitated, each year, by different events. This year, for Beryl and me, three events acted as a catalyst. They all occurred within the space of seven days and involved a wise man, two angel choirs and a bunch of seeking shepherds.
The wise man we encountered, having participated in the Sierra Del Mar Advisory Board Christmas dinner, as we made our way along Fourth Avenue to get our car from the public parking lot. True, he didn’t look much like a wise man, but–if wisdom involves the learning or understanding of something previously not known–then he was a wise man. He wanted us to know that a year or two ago he felt that The Salvation Army was “rubbish.” He could see no good thing in us. In the interim period, however, he had fallen upon difficult times and–in the midst of his travails–the Army was able to help him in both materially and with regard to his peace of mind. He had nothing but good to say about the Army and wanted us to know it.
(Had we not been wearing uniform, the encounter could not have taken place. It has tremendous “brand” value in “frontline” settings.)
Now, what about the two angel choirs? The first was a very professional all-female chorus from Citrus College, participating in the retired officers Christmas lunch sponsored by the Southern California and Sierra Del Mar Divisions. I was tremendously moved and made aware of the presence of God through the singing of some of their Christmas repertoire. In fact, so much so that I went out of my way to ask a member whether Citrus College is a Christian college. She said “No,” but that they were located next to Azusa. I said, “Maybe that helps!” But the lesson reaffirmed for me was that God can speak to us through any medium, whether Christian or not. (In fact, though some of the most famous classical composers have led far from exemplary lives, God can speak to Christians through their music). That same evening, we attended a concert by the Moreno Valley High School Chorale. Lacking the degree of sophistication of the Citrus College group (how could one expect it? The leaders did an incredible job controlling 40 or so hyper students), nevertheless, God spoke to me through their singing. “Treasure in earthen vessels” is a mystery we cannot comprehend.
And the bunch of shepherds…well, we worship at an adult rehabilitation center where the Army specializes in gathering up lost sheep and bringing them to the good shepherd who can–and does–work miracles in their lives. This last Sunday, my attention was drawn to an interesting juxtaposition. On the holiness table in the sanctuary is a manger scene, with wise men and shepherds worshiping the new-born king. In front of the holiness table is the mercy seat. Spontaneously, when the invitation was given, many men (including a child or two) moved forward and knelt on bended knees at the mercy seat, facing the nativity scene. I suddenly realized that there were two sets of shepherds worshipping the infant…those in the manger scene…and those who came forward. Men who, when they gain control of their addiction will become shepherds (“buddies”) to new “seekers” of the miracle that the holy babe came to make possible.
One wise man, two angel choirs and a bunch of shepherds…what did you see this Christmas?