“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” ― G.K. Chesterton,
I’ve posted this personal story for several years.
“A Child wandered in on some bums where they hid.” Old City Bar -Trans Siberian Orchestra
The quote is from the song “In an Old City Bar,” which is linked to at the bottom of the post. You may want to play it as you read.
True Confession: My favorite Christmas music is by the Trans Siberian Orchestra, which will probably cause some out there to claim, “Ah ha! I knew she was a heretic.” I have seen them in person twice, one time with Deb. Oddly, I was in tears listening to one of their songs, “In an Old City Bar.” Usually, that means I need to think. And then I remembered…
It was our second year of marriage, and we were living on the Navajo Indian Reservation. We would not be able to go home to the Boston area for Christmas. I was pretty sad since it would be the first Christmas away from my extended family. Christmas was a big deal at my house: food, games, and presents. My father would wrap his gifts for us, on purpose, in the worst possible way. Torn paper bags, string, ripped wrapping paper, glue, and rubber bands. We would laugh hard; his were the loudest and longest of all. In fact, the presents we looked for the hardest were Dad’s crazily wrapped presents.
I was pleased that we decided to spend Christmas in a little town called Ouray in Colorado. It would provide a distraction. Back then, Ouray was small, nestled in the mountains. Its fortunes have since changed, and it is now a bustling and trendy town. It was a relatively long drive from Gallup, New Mexico. We drove north past Shiprock and through the mountains surrounding Telluride. It was snowing quite heavily, and we were forced to put on chains, or the police would not let us into the dangerous passes. It was a bit scary.
When we arrived, the little town was deserted. We tried to check into our cabin, but the people who ran it had gone away. They left a note with a key on the door of the cabin, along with some firewood, and said to slip the check under the front door of their house when we left. We were totally alone. In fact, we would never meet our hosts and have often remarked about their trust in their unknown guests.
We decided to try to find something to eat, but everything was shut down except for a bar with a neon light that said “Open.” In we tromped, cold and tired. This was not some trendy watering hole. It was a plain old bar. The bartender said he could rustle up a burger for us, and down we plopped. I was feeling a little sorry for myself. I had survived a treacherous car drive and was now sitting in an old bar, damp and tired, sipping a mediocre glass of wine with a bunch of drunks who probably got tossed out by their families.
And he (the Child) asked did we know
That outside in the snow
That someone was lost
Outside our door
As I looked around, we realized that we were the only couple of the dozen or so people in the bar. Everyone else was alone. Faces were bent over their drinks. Most of them looked sad and tired. Several mountain men, kind of Duck Dynastyesque, had long beards, flannel shirts, and jeans.
The bartender turned
and said, not that I care
But how would you know this?
The child said I noticed
If one could be home,
they’d be already there
Then, a man stood up. He looked like a businessman, more well-dressed than all of us. He sat down at the piano. I do not think this was expected because the bartender looked slightly rattled. To our surprise, the man began to play Christmas carols, and he played them well. People began to sing along as time passed, including the guys whose faces had been hunched over their beer mugs. As they sang, they started to look around. As we caught each other’s eyes, we nodded and smiled slightly. Even the bartender was singing quietly.
Oh, was I mad at myself! I realized that the people in the bar were lonely and sad while I was sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. I was judging them instead of loving them. Jesus not only loved them; He understood them. He was born in a cave, amongst the animals, to a teenage mother who was far from her home when she should have had the comfort of her family as she labored. Instead, it was only Joseph who most likely was not adept at birthing babies since that was often left up to the women. Can you imagine the judgment of those who knew about this woman giving birth in a cave, of all places?
We began to leave at the bar after we sang “Silent Night.” The quiet sounds of “Merry Christmas” were heard. There were even a few pats on the back. Two thousand years later, the Child still brought people together in very strange places.
The following day, the sun came out, and we drove to a cross-country ski area. The snow was too deep to ski easily. We were all alone; not another person could be seen or heard. It was so quiet that it almost hurt our ears. I thought about the quiet of a cave from which an explosion came, which was louder than a nuclear bomb. It would forever change the landscape of this world. The drunk in the bar meant as much to this Child as the greatest of kings. In fact, I think He may feel even closer to them than to the privileged and arrogant.
So, as my kids grow up and leave home, I plan to find some places where outcast and alone people spend Christmas Eve. Do not be surprised to see a woman with cute shoes sipping a glass of mediocre wine in a run-down bar on Christmas Eve. This time, however, she will have a sack with some presents to give to them. As she does, she plans to let them know that there is a Child who cares for them and knows what it is like to be in a strange place on Christmas Eve.