I was an enthusiastic choir member in elementary school, performing in concerts and singing at Leisure World each December. I even had a solo in the Christmas concert on the second verse of What Child is This.
At home, we had a set of paper angel ornaments, in pink, yellow and blue with fuzzy flocked dots on their dresses. They stood about two inches high with yellow curls stapled to their paper heads and gold paper wings stapled to their backs. They held guitars or autoharps, or my favorite, white microphones with red tips in their outstretched pipe cleaner hands.
Sitting cross-legged on our beige shag carpet, I placed the angels on risers made of empty ornament boxes, separating the altos from the first and second sopranos. Then I sang for them, a one-girl Mormon Tabernacle choir belting out every Christmas carol I knew.
I had all the popular carols like Joy to the World, Silent Night, and Angels We Have Heard on High memorized to the fourth verse, including one verse of O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin. I was alone, waiting for my sister to come home from a friend’s and my mom to come from work. Singing that hour, I didn’t feel alone, I felt as though I was part of something. It was a great concert.
By my enthusiastic refrains, you would’ve thought I was a true believer, a girl who shined her Sears’ catalog shoes, dressed in her best corduroy jumper and walked the three blocks to the Assembly of God, collecting attendance stars at Sunday school and memorizing Bible verses by the score. You would’ve been wrong.
I went to guitar mass sometimes with my Catholic friend across the street. Less often, I rode in the rear-facing station wagon bench with my neighbor on our way to a Presbyterian church somewhere across the freeway. All I knew about church was that I didn’t belong. About God, I knew even less.
When I grew up, my mother divided the old ornaments between my sister and me. When we got to the faded paper angels, she divided the mandolin and harp-playing angels in two equal piles. As a child, I hadn’t guessed the instruments quite right; that was okay. But when we got to my favorite angels, the microphone angels, both she and my sister said they were holding candles. They said the painted red tips were obviously flames.
After that, the angels lost their appeal. I’d begun to realize there was something missing in my life. The kind of thing a college degree, political activism, good deeds and a good husband couldn’t satisfy. The kind of thing that belting out Christmas carols hinted at.
The angels hung from my tree, holding only candles. You have to get really close to a candle to see much. You have to be brave and intentional to get that close to an angel, or whoever, is holding the flame. It’d be as scary as walking into a church alone and uninvited looking for God.
I wanted angels with microphones, a dozen of them, flying around the neighborhood, singing out good news and giving me direction from a safe distance. I didn’t want to get too close or personal.
But that’s what God does at Christmas, gets down in the straw and muck and has the nerve to insist on birthing something new and wrinkled and helpless smack in the middle of our overburdened lives. You can’t get more personal than that.
God came to me in the shower, which is almost as strange as showing up in a manger. It was as though the angels set aside their microphones, grabbed some buckets, filled them with love and poured them down. Once that happened, I had no choice but to believe.
God’s message of love is everywhere right now. It’s on radio stations 24 hours a day interspersed between I’ll Be Home for Christmas and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. It’s in the voices of those holding candles in the dark and singing on Christmas Eve.
Throughout time, we who walk in the darkness are given hope of great light. May that light, however and in whomever it is revealed, shine brightly.
©Cathy Warner 2006