The Nativity on the shelf was missing all the usual figurines except for a single angel perched on the manger roof prepared to make an announcement that this year would not be heralded by it, much less by a multitude of heavenly host.
A policeman guarded the entrance. There would be no admission. Not this year.
A long way from Bethlehem, churches in America today are struggling with the implications of shutdown orders seen by some as tyrannical, hypocritical and an oppressive use of power antithetical to church ideals.
Absent a pulpit by which to announce tidings of great joy, here following is hopefully an alternative, an interlude, a wayside respite for the weary, not unlike the destination reached following that long and arduous journey that had been forced upon Joseph and Mary.
What a spellbinding story, a mystery masterpiece, a compelling compendium for the ages!
Was it the latest of Stephen King’s suspense-filled, science fiction fantasies? No, more intrigue even than that.
Was it an Agatha Christie detective romance investigation? No, still more intricate and imaginative.
Dickens or Dostoevsky, Tolkien or Tolstoy, Steinbeck or Shakespeare?
Then a John Grisham legal thriller?
No, not even “the world’s most popular author.” Grisham in fact is listed as among – but not number one – of the “Best 100 Authors, Greatest Authors of All Time.”
Who authored the story replete for its beauty, simplicity, and novelty?
For intrigue, imagination, and intricate attention to detail; for majesty, magnificence, and immeasurable impact that stands the test of time, who gets the credit?
On Christmas Eve it is our family tradition to recite it – the story – by heart.
When first announced, the story wasn’t heralded among the top 10, not even the top 100. In fact, the story when first told was to a handful of shepherds.
A very, very few witnessed and worshipped in the humblest of abodes as ever could have been envisioned by any author, in any time, in all of history.
In contrast to our world today where singing is banned in churches, there was a time when a multitude of heavenly host raised united and unrestricted voice in song.
Though there are places of worship today that are completely closed as pandemic rages, there was a time where the place of worship was just a stable.
And as the hue and cry of constitutional and human rights advocates bestirs the faithful to demand, and insist, and assert their privilege to attend en masse those places of worship, there was a time when a very few among the lowest of professions on the planet were invited to be present.
Upon them was bestowed the honor; to these very few was accorded the privilege; and for us today it is to understand what matters most for the church in COVID crisis at Christmas.