So this is how I found myself sitting in a church watching a play on Christmas morning. I agreed to let them use Manny as the Baby Jesus in the manger and he was surrounded by toddlers dressed as sheep, other children dressed as cows and horses and Hannah, who wanted to be the Grinch. The narrator was a 10 year old boy who was reading from a script. Everything went fine until the 3 wise men started walking up the aisle. The narrator did his bit first.
“Next the three wise men came to Bethlehem in Judea with their gifts. Their names were-“
Hannah saw them coming down the aisle and yelled out:
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!”
The congregation fell out laughing. Even Jim found it difficult to keep a straight face. One of the wise men tripped on his robe and fell, dropping his frankincense (a perfume bottle filled with water) and bumping the next wise man who also fell but managed to hang on to his gold candy coins. The third wise man stayed out of the fray, holding on to his myrrh for dear life.
The grownups helped them up. After their turbans were reseated and their robes straightened they resumed their march to the makeshift manger scene in the front of the church. One of the wise men stepped forward.
I lost track of the proceedings a little bit. I had really done a number on the door to the supply closet. I was sure I could fix it though. I was apprenticed to a local shop and learning carpentry.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” said the tallest wise man, a little too loudly. “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.” The little sheep went baaaa and the little cows came over to visit them. The play organizers were on their knees in the front, trying to direct the kids and stay out of the way at the same time. At some point the cows forgot their bovine roots and began to bark and pant like puppies. Well why not; there could have been dogs by the manger too. The audience was in stitches.
The piano player began to play one of their musical numbers, hoping to get things back on track.
Her playing was absolutely incredible and I closed my eyes for a minute just to take it in. I took piano lessons when I was a kid but it wasn’t “cool” and I never kept it up. To be able to coax that sound from that huge old piano was pure art. And she did it like it was nothing man, hardly even watching the music or keys. I wouldn’t mind having the chance to hear her again, but back to the play.
By now the kids were finishing the script. The Grinch narrated the ending while one of the wise men tossed gold candy coins in the air.
“The wise men gave baby Jesus treasures fit for a king. But Jesus’ own gift was the greatest one of all. He gave us eternal life so we should honor and praise him. He will be known by many names: Jesus, Emmanuel, and Yahweh- and by his own words he will be known as the GREAT I AM.”
The music played and they sang their final number. The Grinch bowed and the rest of the cast came forward and bowed. One of the sheep had fallen asleep on the floor by the manger; his mother came forward and picked him up while we all stood and clapped.
My heart skipped a beat when Hannah went over and picked up baby Manny, but she brought him right to me. Looking back I was surprised at my reaction when the baby went missing. I had been so worried for him. I was so wrapped up in myself and my circumstances that I hadn’t realized he meant anything to me at all and I was grateful to find that he did.
“How’d I do Joe? Did you like it?” she asked, her cheeks rosy and green with makeup.
“You were awesome Hannah,” I replied. “That was a great play.”
“I was the Grinch,” she said proudly.
“I see that, you did a good job.” I said, smiling.
So many people came up to us and introduced themselves that I completely lost track. The ladies ALL wanted to babysit Manny and I got no less than 3 job offers from the men. Jim had obviously been working in the background on this one. What a guy. I’ll never forget what he did for us, what he did for me. We make our way to the door where Jim is shaking hands and giving hugs to everyone as they leave. He grabs me and gives me a big hug.
“I can’t thank you enough Jim,” I said to him. “You must have called everyone you know.”
“What do you mean Joey? I prayed. God did the rest.”
I nodded my head, sure, sure. It occurred to me though, as I stepped through the door and out on to the little stoop, that when I walked in this same church last night I was screaming inside— in complete despair. I had come in to tear out what was left of my heart and leave it on a pew in the darkness.
This morning I’m stepping out of the same church into sunshine. I have phone numbers of all these nice old ladies who want to take care of Manny for me, free of charge, stuffed into the diaper bag. They all want me to come to dinner too. Somebody—and this part chokes me up–got my car from Walmart and had it cleaned. I don’t know how they did it on Christmas Day, and wow, they did it for someone they don’t even know. The sun’s in my eye there, got to rub it a little.
Anyways I wonder too, all these people helping, Jim being in the right place at the right time; did God put Jim at that Walmart? Did he arrange for Hannah to be the last one out after rehearsal so that she would still be in the church when I came through? I don’t know if it was God’s hand in all of this or not. All I know is that I came in here last night and had never felt so inadequate, so useless and so alone. Today I’m starting to think that maybe I’m not alone.
Maybe I never was.
Note from the author: I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and I hope the New Year brings happiness and prosperity. You can help to make the holidays special for other families as well as your own. Please remember to give a little light and love to your fellow man by donating to any of the many deserving charities that are so active during the holiday season. Blessings!