A large crowd gathers downtown to share a time of waiting. Surrounded by the soft glow of downtown store marquees and Christmas lights, friends and strangers come to huddle and sing around an unlit tree.
These friends and strangers, it turns out, all play an important part. They’re on a rescue mission, whether they know it or not.
Thousands of people congregate here in the city’s center each month during these First Fridays events. We wait for them all month because the celebrations bring our city together.
Tonight, everyone is bundled up and waiting for something bigger. Especially my boys. They’re waiting to light the city’s Christmas tree with Mayor Allan Kauffman.
While we stand together, the passers-by hear the harmony of our waiting, and many stop to join our singing. Among these smiling singers, I run into cast members from a former community production of Godspell, and my mind returns to its opening scene because the anticipation on the street tonight somehow feels the same.
As the audience waited for that show to begin, thousands of bubbles suddenly appeared, filling the cavernous space of our historic downtown theatre. They came from the balcony and stage, as well as from people planted throughout the audience. Joy was everywhere.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” sang John the Baptist at the show’s opening.
Up to this point, the prophet spent his life in a dry place of waiting. Finally, though, his cry of celebration erupted and pointed everyone toward the fulfillment of their waiting.
As the characters danced down the aisles of the theatre, they left their lives of isolation to join others in celebration. I felt their joy.
Like a wet bubble popping in my face.
Tonight as we sing our Christmas carols, our crowd continues growing. Somehow, we discover growth in our waiting.
But Henry and James stand still. Like their father, they aren’t necessarily moved to sing during seasons of waiting. To them, waiting feels really hard. Anyone can see the evidence underneath James’ oversized sock monkey hat, where his sour face escapes like a long, upside-down curl.
Finally, though, the mayor arrives. Our boys remain serious, knowing they have “important work” to do. In their minds, they will prepare the way to Christmas, tonight, for all of Goshen. Their eyes are focused and bright.
And once it’s time, in their mind, they don’t need a countdown. In fact, they completely disregard it. Getting a little ahead of Mayor Kauffman, James lights the tree before Goshen is officially ready.
But the people laugh and cheer, anyway. Because deep down they’re ready, too.
Maybe our waiting is best done in groups. Somehow, when we open our hands to a larger community, our shared songs spread among us and cover our waiting.
It’s the story of grace entering our space. Like a wet bubble popping in our face.
It feels good, too, even to those who haven’t yet learned to embrace the joy of waiting. Like my boys.
Okay. Like me.
Before last night, I didn’t associate John the Baptist’s song with Christmas. But now his words sound like the proper answer to my own season of waiting.
“Prepare ye the way.”
These words give bold, new direction to my waiting. But waiting is hard, even as we wait together. So if I ever lose sight of my command, then please, all you friends and strangers, come huddle and sing around me.
Until I’m wet in the face.
(Photos by Lynne Zehr)