Monday, December 24
Candles were everywhere, and First Baptist was draped throughout with holly and greenery. The Chrismon trees were illuminated now, myriad white lights sparkling like the stars of some distant galaxy, and the ornaments gleamed white and gold against the forest green of the twin triangle-shaped spruces.
An elderly man with a crumpled ear sat on the right, near the outside. The candle in his hand was lit already, wax running down his hand like the hot tears of angels, and it flickered and sputtered in the shadows as people walked by, oblivious.
Jimmy had peered into the packed sanctuary but could not bring himself to sit down inside. He felt like an interloper, a party-crasher, and he resigned himself to sitting in the narthex and listening to the music.
And the music was beautiful.
Jimmy listened to the soaring melodies of the choir and the booming blast of the organ and he felt God nearby. So close that he could feel God in his every breath, and in the rhythm of his heart as it lay beating in his chest.
He saw a Bible – a simple one, black with gold-embossed letters on the outside – sitting on the short pew in the narthex. Impulsively, he put his duffel bag down and opened it.
His eyes stopped at John 15:17, and he read, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
Jimmy read on, and the words made sense to him at last. The Bible was about love!
The choir swelled in singing a hymn of praise. The hymn was Congregation Arise, and it was apparently a signal for people to start coming out of the sanctuary. Jimmy looked up as the doors opened. A skinny kid – he couldn’t have been more than twenty-five – flew through the doors first. His unruly hair was dyed orange. A tattoo snaked around his arm and up his elbow. Their eyes locked. The orange-haired kid’s eyes opened wide, as if in recognition.
Another door to the sanctuary flew open and slammed into a huge candelabra, knocking it awry. It swayed in space for a second before falling toward the ground, the lit candles tracing blue scuffmarks on Jimmy’s startled retinas. And Jimmy caught it.
He set the candelabra back upright as if nothing had happened, the candles with nary a flicker, and the crowd filed out, to the singing of Congregation Arise, as they celebrated the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The orange-haired boy was smiling at him – beaming from ear to ear, really, although Jimmy could not figure out why. “Thanks,” the orange-haired boy said to Jimmy, patting him on the arm.
“God bless you.”
“God bless you, too,” Jimmy said. He was filled with peace.
And the congregation, having arisen, filed out into the winter night.
The church was quiet.
The candles were all extinguished, their spirits drifting about in the darkness, and the moonlight streamed in like quicksilver.
The man and the woman were sitting down front again.
“Beautiful service, wasn’t it?” he said.
“Always is. Christmas Eve is my favorite,” she said.
“Thanks for coming with me. I had to do this just one last time,” he said.
“You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world, daddy,” she said.
“Maybe we can come back next year,” he said.
“I don’t see why not,” she said.
Bill and Sue, father and daughter, sat there for a moment. And then, like the smoke, they were gone, their souls having flown back to God. But their essence lingered, in the scent of spruce and burnt candles, in the echoes of the hymns and the silence of the empty church, and in the love that filled the hearts of their friends and family. For love is the essence of God on earth.
And love is eternal.
Christmas, 2007 – Mark Murphy