It starts with Mohammed, the Somali refugee who drives for Uber to make ends meet. Mohammed, a father of four, drove us to our big fancy downtown Seattle hotel after the Christmas Eve worship service we attended at the fancy urban contemporary church. Mohammed, we discovered as we rode, has trouble getting work because of his status, and his wife also works to help support the family. He talked about living for eleven years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being shipped off to America, which he never asked to happen. And now, he drives Uber for eight to ten hours a day. It gets tiring, he says. And he looks tired, resting his head on the driving wheel when we get to a stop light.
After Mohammed dropped us off, we took a family photo by the Christmas tree in the fancy downtown Seattle hotel’s lobby and then went up to our room to watch A Christmas Carol and get the kids ready for bed.
And then there’s the fancy urban contemporary church we visited. This church is running a textbook operation. They had a flawless contemporary Christmas eve production with an extremely talented worship band and a funny and inspiring message from a hip young pastor.
But here’s the thing: nobody said anything to our family as we entered the church. No one said anything to us as we found a seat, and no one said anything to us as we put on our coats, made our way through the lobby, and then stood outside the church waiting to be picked up by Mohammed the Uber driver.
It was like we were never there. Like we were not a part of the production.
And then I think about the little country Methodist church we attended last weekend. This little mountain church was filled with so much blue hair that sitting in the sanctuary was almost like being blinded by the sky. The little church was the definition of unhip, with a definitively unslick musical production, an excruciatingly dull message about something blah-blah-Old Testament-blah from a 60-something pastor in 90’s era khakis, and a group of people who embraced us as if we were a part of the community.
Our kids were the only children in the church, but the childcare lady loved on all three of our children from the moment she saw us until the moment we dragged them away from her. Another family invited us to sled on their hill and eat some dinner, and a retired dentist/pilot invited us for a single-engine airplane ride the next day. Why? Because he loves showing people the area.
We were strangers, but not to these folks.
Finally, this Christmas Eve, I’m thinking about the manger. It always seems to come back to the manger, doesn’t it?
This started yesterday as I walked through the lobby of our fancy hotel, looking at all the elegant decorations, listening to the classic Christmas music, and considering all of the well-dressed shiny happy people sitting in lounge and lobby ordering $35 hors d’oeuvres and $100 bottles of Didier Dagueneau Silex.
As I looked at all of the comfort, wealth, and contentment, I couldn’t help but think about that blasted manger. Why couldn’t I just focus on “White Christmas” and “Santa Baby”? But I kept returning to that wandering Jewish family just looking for a place to shelter. Probably hungry, possibly thirsty, undoubtedly wondering where they could rest, and where they could have their baby.
They had to settle on a barn.
Suddenly, I’m back to thinking about that body of simple believers in the mountains who were more warm and welcoming than they should have been to a wandering family of strangers. They would have given us the clothes from their backs if we’d asked.
But I’m also back to thinking about that body of well-coifed and professionally prolific believers in the city, who were undoubtedly well-intentioned, but who didn’t seem to notice or care that they had a wandering family in their midst, even as they sang “Away in a Manger”.
I’m back to thinking about my family, taking a picture by the well-decked Christmas tree in the lobby of our fancy hotel. I think of my three children who are – even now – nestled sound asleep in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
And I’m back to thinking about Mohammad, the refugee Uber driver, busting his butt to make ends meet and provide bread for his wife and four children. A man who wishes more than anything that he could just go back home where life made some sense.
Yes, this Christmas Eve, I can’t stop thinking.
And sleep isn’t coming easily.