I was driving toward Peachtree City – having some business in that part of the world – this past week.
Driving through that busy stretch of Coweta County was enjoyable – and enlightening. I saw mothers taking children for a fast food lunch and decorations at homes, churches and businesses along Highway 34.
During a stop at the bank, I encountered a businessman making a deposit and a gentleman getting crisp bills to give as Christmas presents. One car I followed had a Democratic donkey and a “Boot the Republicans in 2018” message, while another had an entire back side panel with stickers from conservative talk radio shows, pro-life organizations and Republican candidates.
… And all of us were out in the gray drizzle that inevitably signals Christmas is near in the American South.
After the November time of giving thanks, we turn toward Christmas which brings us together somehow. For me as a Christian, the biblical story is part of it – the poor couple welcoming a baby in a stable, the ritually unclean shepherds responding to an angelic message to visit them there, the regal magi coming a bit later following a heraldic star.
People from different worlds came together that first Christmas, and it is still happening. I’ve seen folks band together to help families in need, to make sure Santa would come even if a parent was out of work. An elegant ladies’ Christmas party put the Howard Warner playground fund over its goal, and Newnan Times-Herald readers gave through Fill the Stocking to help the Salvation Army, Bridging the Gap and Toys for Tots.
There are special times at Christmas. Chatting with Rohan via Facetime brings my grandson in California closer. Visiting at our house, 8-year-old Clair Lynn spent a morning rolling, cutting and baking gingerbread cookies. Her sister, Quinn, half her age, is gaga over Santa. Seeing a picture of Rohan in the jolly old elf’s lap, she asked – with a particular sparkle in her eyes, “Is that the real Santa?”
A particularly memorable Christmas moment came at Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Dec. 17. We were having infant baptism for little Claire Banks. Her mother, Susan Banks, and and grandmother, Peggy Parker, did the readings for the Advent wreath, while her grandfather, Jack Parker, lighted the candles.
Claire’s toddler big sister, Mary Parker, followed her mother and grandparents down the aisle. After Jack lighted the three candles – leaving one for Dec. 24 and the white Christ candle, Mary Parker began saying softly, “Again, again,” and pointing to the unlighted tapers.
Unable convince her grandfather to light more candles, she began blowing with all her might. Alas, the advent wreath was too high for her to blow them out, but – bless her precious little heart – she tried.
Then… as Peggy and Susan finished the readings and the prayer, the four turned to head back to their seats. In a voice just a bit louder than a whisper, Mary Parker spoke.
Happy birthday, indeed. Happy birthday to the Christ Child. Happy birthday to the ties that connect us rather than divide us.
Mary Parker Banks is now one of my favorite theologians. Happy, happy birthday.