The ramshackle Victorian house was situated outside of town, and by all appearances all her pride was long lost. Many of her windows were missing and in their place crumpled-up, faded newspapers were her only defense from the elements. Her front porch was warped from neglect and lack of paint, and like Boo Radley’s scary house in To Kill A Mockingbird, it shouted STAY AWAY!
As we meandered up the dirt road drive to the house in the back seat of our Sunday school teacher’s station wagon on that cold December day, he reminded us of why we were there. We were there “to bring Christmas “ to those inside. The back of the station wagon was filled with carefully and colorfully wrapped packages and Piggly Wiggly bags filled with groceries collected from the congregation. A cedar tree was tied to our vehicle’s roof and as the tree bounced as we hit the washed-out gully that was the drive up to the house, The Little Drummer Boy kept rhythm on the radio.
The boys in the front seat of the station wagon were soon to play shepherds in our church’s Living Nativity that coming Sabbath night. I had been chosen as one of the three wise men, and “we three kings” found ourselves in the back seat with the only girl accompanying us on our mission of mercy. Appropriately, she had been chosen to be an angel, and as her carefully rolled long blonde tresses framed her face it was obvious why. As we got out of the station wagon, the angel in our midst made a pronouncement to the shepherds and we three kings, “Mom says this family are poor white trash.” Her snobby words lingered in the air as we made our way up the front steps.
Our Sunday school teacher’s knock at the door was overcome by the rush of children’s footsteps. The door creaked open to reveal five unwashed but beaming faces welcoming us in. The smell in the house was the same barnyard smell that permeated the air when the station wagon doors had been flung open. Out of the group of five children, a little girl’s voice was heard to say, “Daddy’s out back feeding the goats and the donkey and Mama said to come on in because Santa Claus is coming tonight.”
As we carried the tree to the back of the house, the dimly lit hallway echoed with a baby’s cry. Upon entering a room where the fireplace humbly offered the only heat in the house, we saw the baby lying wrapped in a tattered blanket in his mother’s lap. She smiled at us as our Sunday school teacher introduced each one of us and asked where we could situate the Christmas tree.
While we placed it in the opposite corner from where she sat cradling the baby, the five children watched in wonder as we began to attach multicolored lights to the tree’s branches.
“We never had a Christmas tree before,” confessed the little girl. As the angel unpacked ornaments, the shepherds and wise men assisted the five children in placing them on the tree. Finally, it was time to crown the tree with its star, and we all watched as little Billy – the youngest of the five – stood on the shoulders of one of the wise men and placed the star at its pinnacle. As one of the shepherds plugged in the lights, the tree worked its magic – a hush fell across that room.
“Why does that tree have a star on top of it ?” little Charlie asked. And for the first time the mother who had sat quietly with baby in arms spoke and said “‘Cause, Charlie, that star was how everybody knew where to find the Baby Jesus.”
Her words had barely been spoken before little Charlie chimed in, “So the Baby Jesus got here tonight before Santie Claus did.” And his mother looking at we three kings, the shepherds and the angel with blonde hair and back at her five little ones and the baby replied, “ Oh, yes, he did, Charlie. Yes, he did.”
Before our Sunday school teacher could say a word, our friend the angel, whose harsh and judgmental words had by now turned to tears, began singing and one by one we all began to join her, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round young virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace …”
The house echoed with the carol’s words as our Sunday school teacher and the children’s daddy entered the song-filled room. (They had secretly unloaded the gifts and groceries at the front of the house.) The daddy, his hands smelling of his goats, approached each one of us. He humbly grasped the hands of the wise men, shepherds and the angel and thanked us for coming. And the angel, without hesitation, enthusiastically said, “Oh, no sir. Thank you, sir. Thank you.” The children followed us to the door and told us to come back soon.
As our station wagon wound its way down that dirt driveway headed home that December night, one bright star looming through the windshield seemed to light the way for we three kings, the shepherds, the angel and our Sunday school teacher. In the silence and the holy hush, there was not a doubt in any of our minds as to who had brought Christmas to whom.
The Rev. Bernard Mason is pastor of Mann-Mize Memorial United Methodist Church and chaplain for Heartland Hospice.