Monday, December 28, 2009

Church #11 of 10: Newsflash: Due to Blizzard, Jesus’ Birth Cancelled

"Can’t we just wait here a little bit longer?” I sighed, dropping my head. “Maybe they’re just late.”

"Sure, we can wait.” My mother put the car in park and turned off the gas. The cold began to creep through the cracks and crevices of the car. It was 8:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve and everything was covered in crunchy, white snow. The roads had not been plowed, the parking lot was empty, the steps were slippery, and the lights were off.

A moment of hope churned in my stomach as I saw another car drive slowly through the parking lot and then disappear behind the swirling flakes.

“Plan B, fail,” I thought to myself and then looked up at the dark American Baptist church. “Let’s go,” I said aloud.

Plan A was “Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral” in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. When the snow started to fall, however, Plan A was quickly aborted. First weather rule if you live in the Kansas City Metro Area: if it’s snowing, icing or sleeting, and you are already in Kansas, DON’T go to Missouri. Their lower gas, alcohol and property taxes allow for a common non-belief in snowplows or salt trucks. So, we picked a church in Kansas with a 9:00 p.m. service (Church #2, Prairie Baptist). We had already planned our traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner and were about to pop in a movie when the cancellations started. Just like school closings, they appeared continuously in alphabetical order at the bottom of the screen. Though churches had different names, locations and service times, the gist of it was this: Christmas Eve is Cancelled.

Throughout the movie, I kept my computer open to the school now turned church closings page on a local TV station’s website. Prairie Baptist never came up on the list, though in our pathetic attempt in the empty parking lot, we realized that was an error.

As we headed down the street toward home, I let my disappointment take over my dramatic personality and sat in silence. “I’m sure we can find somewhere else,” my mother said. Then she started listing off local churches. I knew the “Anglican” church next door to our house was still having services, but their severe turn against the openly-gay, Episcopal Bishop made me vow to never step foot on their premises. After she convinced me that there was still hope, I took out my phone and started to look up other options. I called some other churches from the list: Church #9, services cancelled. The Lutherans and Presbyterians were also a no-go. \

At about 8:50, we reentered our house and raced up to our laptops to continue our quest. My mom started listing churches and I crosschecked them with the cancellation list. Of course, we knew that the cancellation list was less than complete, so that did very little good. Then, I did a Google search for churches nearby my parents’ house. The second church that popped up was “Hillcrest Lutheran,” just blocks from our house. Their website stated that all services were continuing as planned.

We sped down the stairs and without tying our shoes or zipping our coats, jumped back into the car to try to make it to Hillcrest’s 9:00 p.m. candlelight service. “Now, these are the right kind of Lutheran’s, right?” My mother asked.

"Sure,” I responded. “Just plain Lutheran.” The truth was, I didn’t really know, but normally, if not otherwise displayed on their sign or website, Lutheran churches are the “right” kind of Lutheran.

We literally sprinted through the parking lot, me, in heels, my mother in untied boots into a church full of about 250 other people who had ventured out into the cold. Candles were lit, a quartet was playing, and my heart began to rest its anxiety, increase its peace, and support its excitement. Behind the altar, a 40 fit, 12 panel window, floor to ceiling, revealed the large wooden cross outside the church, almost as tall. Behind the cross, a huge pine tree with white lights. And in between it all, the snow blew, spun and twisted. It made my eyes water just thinking of how windy it was out there.

I imagined Mary trudging through the sands of the hot desert, pregnant, tired and afraid. The wind blowing grains of dirt in her face and lungs. After all of that, arriving in Bethlehem and finding there is no room for her, anywhere. In a way, for Mary, Christmas Eve was almost cancelled.

But then, in the lowliest of places, the least likely location in which to birth a baby, she settled down, and did what she needed to do. It was not as comfortable as a hotel or as welcoming as her home, but she knew that a prophet’s life was pending, and she must find a place to stay.

It was in the preacher’s call to worship that I closed my eyes and felt the uneasy, discomfort I so often tried to avoid in church. Within the first few moments, I heard the words, “law, Satan and death.” I knew something was off. Trying not to distract my mother, I casually pulled the hymnal from the pew in front of me and turned to the back cover. I sighed on the inside, “Copyright Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.”

I pondered whether or not to whisper to my mother, but her eyes were closed and she was crying, so instead, I started to cry, too. I kneeled when the preacher gave forgiveness, sang every song, said every prayer and took communion, (even though one of the deacons was convinced I was too young and tried to bless me instead). I forgot where I was and instead, remembered why I was there. I thought of Mary in her time of great pain and anxiety. Was she thinking, “Oh my goodness, I cannot believe I’m in a freaking stable” or was it, “I’m going to have a baby…I’m seriously going to have a baby”?

I didn’t agree or feel comfortable with the whole service, but I rarely do. On a night of blizzards, the only place that would take us in was a place I would have never chosen for myself. But it was exactly the place I needed, and Christmas Eve persevered.

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