I found myself in an airport yesterday, listening to secular Christmas songs and feeding bagels to a toddler in sloth pajamas and light-up sneakers. We were early, the airport was crowded, the sky was still dark, and the gate was peppered with striped leggings and reindeer antlers and Uggs boots, worn by dozing travelers with headphones. The holiday travel season was upon us.
Andrew was being a pretty good sport—he’d woken up at 4 in a hotel crib, saying “I get in the big bed?” He’d worn his coat on the ‘bus’ and walked with me through security in a line the Soviets would’ve been proud of. His eyes were sleepy, but it was just too exciting.
I got my hands swiped with the bomb-seeking thing the TSA wield (if the government shutdown affected airport security, they didn’t show it), Porg had gone through the x-ray, and Daddy’s bag had, of course, been searched. All our holiday traditions.
I was exhausted. My whole body felt creaky and sour. My stomach hurt. I was ready for the flight to be over. Every minute feels like an hour when you travel with a toddler—it’s all management and planning and anticipating little things. And you get selfish (I do, anyway—if I took him for a walk to see the airport Christmas decorations first, then you have to do it next). Little irritations get bigger—you better have what you need, or you’ll have to go through the Baby Wipe Hunt of 2016 all over again (of all the things to forget). As it was, I went to Cantina Laredo and borrowed a butter knife to get Drew’s new headphones out of their plastic cage.
I walked with Andrew through the terminal, holding hands and mostly getting along (he only took one swat at me, so that’s progress, although one mom gave me a look of reproach for being hit…I guess.) In the middle of the food court, which was a soft twilight with the longest night of the year still heavy outside and only a few places open, he stopped. Above our heads was a giant sculpture, like a white wreath, made of cheerfully-lit birds and rockets and planes, all seemingly flying in a sunset-colored circle (Love Field, you did a good job with this one). Andrew stopped and looked at it—stopped in his bb8 sneakers and sloth pajamas to stare up at the birds and “pwanes”.
The soft light from the ceiling reflected off his eyes—I don’t know how long he stood there; I didn’t make him leave, why bother? He has to wait, why not wait underneath the glow of something beautiful?
And one by one, people passed him by and smiled. Businessmen with bags over their shoulders, janitors leaning on carts of cleaning supplies, a woman in a wheelchair, a big TSA guy in a uniform and badge. All of them, the same type of smile.
An airport at 5 in the morning is full of miserable, bored, anxious, tired human beings. They have no control over anything, and they have no guarantees—gates changed while we waited, standby passengers continued to sit and pray. Parents put unaccompanied minors into the care of strangers in flight attendant uniforms. But Andrew was happy, because he saw something he knew but didn’t know—planes, beautiful planes, flying with birds, lit with pleasant lights. This place was awesome.
This Christmas, my cousin’s baby is in the NICU and my niece is laid up with strep. My husband’s cousin barely missed being stranded somewhere due to a government shutdown, which is leaving people unpaid and stuck. It’s a hard year for others who have lost people in all sorts of ways—and I wonder if they feel emptied of joy.
When you think about it, this is no different than the Christmas we commemorate year after year—political issues sending people around the country, pregnant country girls giving birth away from home, and the world turning in its tired way for everyone bound to the ground with worry.
But I like to think of the shepherds. Kids, they might’ve been (according to Ray Vanderlaan). And they were doing their regular job, maybe sick of each other, probably tired—and then there was light. And great joy.
I’ve read this story in a bunch of different versions. Some describe the angels as a choir, some call them an army. I’m sure the shepherds feared them just the same. But they—the first people who got the news—believed, and they saw something beautiful.
I don’t know what happened to them later—I hope they ran into Jesus again when he was older. At the very least, I hope they didn’t lose their faith like Susan in Narnia once they grew up. But I bet they didn’t—I bet they completed their mortal toil, left the earth, saw the baby all grown up, and heard that music that had once made them “sore afraid”, but now they recognized it. I hope so, anyway—I hope they made it.
So this Christmas I hope your days and nights are beautiful and memorable—full of candles and songs and gifts and food and rest and reunions. But if this Christmas finds you stuck, or waiting, or lost, or just tired and jaded, then may the story remind you of something beautiful. And whether you see it in a wreath at the airport or the eyes of a toddler in sloth pajamas, or an army of angels, I hope it illuminates the night and brings you great joy.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…”