SideLines: Moved by the spirit of Christmas

Every year at this time, I feel this urge to write something inspiring about the Chrismas season.

Every time, I’m reminded of a scene in one of the most endearing Christmas specials ever made, when Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, “I’ll tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then recites Luke 2:10, about the angels appearing to the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what that night must have been like. You’re a simple shepherd herding a group of sheep, a thankless job at best. For them, out there in the middle of nowhere without any cell phone service, it was just another night. They were going about their nightly routine when all of a sudden, the sky exploded with lights and sounds and a glory never before seen.

If you’ve ever been out in the open like that, you know the sky seems like 100 times larger, deeper, more mysterious than it does in town. What would it be like to see the sky full of more angels than you ever thought possible, reaching as far as you can see, each one shining, singing, rejoicing?

The birth of any child is a miracle, or it should be. Do you remember what it was like holding your own children for the very first time, seeing the life you created, wiggling and blinking helpless and innocent in your arms? Remember that feeling that welled up inside of you? This was no ordinary child, but the savior of the world, the one to rescue us from ourselves. It was a birth like no other in the history of the world, and these simple shepherds were a part of it.

It must have been an amazing sight.

About 20 years ago, a friend of mine was teaching at a suburban high school when the principal got a bunch of tickets to see a Bulls game right before Christmas. This was when Michael Jordan was in his prime. As luck would have it, there was an extra ticket and my friend asked me to go.

After an embarrassingly expensive dinner, our bus driver decided to take us on a shortcut through the back streets. With the clock ticking toward game time, we rushed through dark, forboding neighborhoods where you just knew things happened you didn’t want to think about. I wondered how people could raise children amidst all that doom and gloom.

Jammed into the middle of one block was a nondescript brownstone with a tiny, vulnerable Christmas tree inside a simple fence on the front lawn. It was the kind of tree Charlie Brown might have picked out.

There was no Clark Griswold display, just a few modest strands of old-fashioned red, blue and yellow lights they don’t make anymore. The lights didn’t blink or twinkle, and they were so dim, I don’t know if you could see them half a block away. But, in their own way, they shined as bright as any I’ve ever seen. The true spirit of Christmas – the reason for the season, the eternal hope for all of us, the purpose of that birth over 2,000 years ago – lives in the hearts of people everywhere, even in places you least expect.

In its humble way, that, too, was an amazing sight.

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