Monday night, I had the good fortune to attend a fantastic Christmas concert by the Choral Arts Society of Washington. It was a rich blend of music old and new, made richer by the fact that the concert was under the patronage of the Ambassador of Argentina, which brought an abundance of Argentine Christmas music onto the program.
And so the images collided with one another: Gloria in Excelsis! met “Riding a red bolt, the angel Gabriel comes flying. With a star-pointed saber, silver spurs, he was elegant.” “Joy to the World” rubbed up against “O Holy Night,” played on a steel-string guitar by the guitarist from Steely Dan. Bach’s choral magnificence danced with the Piazzola’s orchestral tango settings.
Midway through, it started to feel familiar. In fact, as I thought about it, it started to feel like church. Dressing nicely to go someplace special. Gathering, greeting the people you know. Settling into the seats and becoming silent, except when we were singing. Hearing the ancient message of Christmas dressed up in new clothes. I found myself wondering, “For how many of the people here is this their church, the place they come to be inspired and made whole?” Looking around the concert hall, I could guess that many of them would not be in church on Christmas Eve; this probably was their worship.
That’s the thing about church: it is always breaking out of its familiar confines. A concert, a walk in the woods, the intense feeling of connection that occurs before a big game, a conversation between two strangers in a bar, or two friends over Chinese take-out in a messy apartment: wherever people are able to connect with one another in a deep and honest way, God is there. God is there.
And so I’d ask you to think about the unexpected places you have met God recently — and even, if it’s not too personal, to share them. Are there places that are church for you (other than your parish)? What makes them holy ground? And what can we, the people who make up the Body of Christ in this world, learn from them? Do they have ways of fostering intimacy? Of making your heart whole? Of making the stranger welcome, of encouraging us to venture beyond the safe confines of our past, into the present where God is waiting for us to come?
In one week, we are going to celebrate God’s least likely appearance: as a baby, naked, crying, born into penury, with no place to lay his head. There was no one who could have predicted it. There was no one who could have imagined it. Even with the angels and the star and a host of miracles, people looked at him his whole life and did not see it — thousands of people.
If God did all that for us, just so we could learn to see him, shouldn’t we be looking in the other unexpected places, the ones of our daily lives? They are all around us — and so is God.