It was the woman in the nightgown, leaning over her walker and dabbing tears with the back of her hand while we sang at her doorway.
That’s when Christmas came down and curled up in my heart. That woman — wrinkled and frail and bent — made me know how much Jesus loves us. And how He never stops loving us.
It’s the sort of unscripted moment that catches your whole self — and your tear-ducts — by surprise. You stop singing for a second to peek inside your little self, and behold, the King of Kings is waving back.
And you’re changed.
Our whole lives might well be a series of these little and big heart-changes, these tiny brushes with something sacred. These moments are chain-linked into a series — one looping to connect with another during our lifetimes on planet Earth — to make a whole life in Christ. To make a whole song.
Hearts circle back to him, the way that a Christmas carol resolves on that last note–
“… little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
And maybe that’s why that woman in the nightgown cried when we sang “Away in a Manger.” Maybe she saw down that long chain of life-song, knowing that she’s somewhere toward the end of hers. And she remembered where she’d been, and all those times He was there — a long series of notes in the same direction.
She watched the pink-cheeked children, zippered against the cold at her doorway. The notes lifted up and up, straight off the staff and toward the sky, a twinkling starry heaven, listening.
Maybe she knew what I was feeling. Maybe she remembered something like what I was remembering–
I remembered singing “Away in a Manger” as a toddler in the front of the United Methodist Church sanctuary, trying hard to memorize the words and actions but not understanding why Jesus would come as a baby; then singing it again as a pre-teen, knowing the whole song (or at least the first verse) but quite seriously dreading the fact that I had to sing it in front of God and everybody; and then again as an adult woman, who had been away from the church so long that she’d mostly forgotten about that song — my own personal intermezzo. But when she came back, she discovered the sweetest surprise:
The song never forgot about her.
I feel it in my heart: The life-song is still resolving, down the staff to the final notes.
“I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
and stay by my cradle til …”
I don’t know if that’s what the woman with the walker was feeling. But I couldn’t stop watching her, hunched in her doorway. I had worried we’d come too late to sing to her, had feared she’d be in bed. I felt a twinge of guilt when she showed up on the threshhold in her nightgown.
But, she told us, she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
We were five notes into the first verse when her tears started.
“Can I sing with you?” she asked one of the other singers.
And yes, of course she could.
And she did. She sang. And she let the tears fall. And she treasured it all in her heart. I knew it then–
I knew that Christmas descends in soft places, where notes aren’t black sticks on a musical staff, but are the pathways of praise toward a holy resolution–
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven
To live with Thee there.
Posting from the archive.
What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Share in comments.