I look down at my iPhone, Bible app open to the second chapter of Luke. The Christmas Story. Memories of Christmas Eves past flood me as I look at the people in front of me, preparing to read. In a night of great moments, this might be the best.Granted, I’d had the same feeling five minutes earlier. Looking around the old room at the Ranger I saw thirty plus people all doing the same thing. Heads bent, eyes closed, praying—circled up, lifting needs to Jesus. Surely, He is here in the midst of each circle showing up as promised. I couldn’t imagine it getting any better.Then again, I had felt the same when people showed up. I hugged everyone as they arrived and enjoyed watching them mingle, laughing like friends and family do when gathering. What could be better? But then we had dinner!
Something magical happens when we eat together—sitting, lingering, talking. Eating busts barriers, much needed tonight with two distinct groups present, people whose worlds are far apart, people who simply don’t connect. But here we are, hanging like friends. Has to be the best moment!Some context: We are in an old room at the Ranger, a forlorn space unoccupied for years, used only to store mattresses. When I asked Ervin,** the owner, about using it for a dinner, his yes was quick. He is supportive of our work. In we went with our team, stacked mattresses, scrubbed at caked-on dirt and planned dinner. This all began with door-knocking at East Colfax motels.
Diane and I started with two friends, Nate and Christine. Then Tim and Patty came. Now the team has grown to a dozen or so. Burritos, cookies and bananas in hand, we have gotten to know people, heard stories, prayed prayers. Our goal wasn’t food, charity or fixing anyone; simply, our goal was and is to build friendships across a great divide. These friendships bless each person and help us step together towards Jesus. But we longed for more, a place and time to gather over dinner as friends and family. That is a tall order! Many here lead isolated lives, with few relationships.
Social anxiety is rampant. Some of our friends who do know each other often have conflict. Add in their skittishness about showing up and I worried only our team might be here.But tonight we come and they come and we eat together. While eating, I look around and see the contrast of two radically different worlds. Some of it is racial, but mostly it is about money and lifestyle. One group wealthy and comfortable, the other poor and often struggling. Diane and I move regularly between these two groups, but seeing them now, side-by-side, sitting around tables, the picture stuns me. Can I say it again? These groups are almost never together, especially over dinner.
During dinner, we weave in the kinds of things Diane and I did for family devotions around our dinner table—sharing, singing, prayer, Scripture. Around each table people share what they were grateful for, share prayer needs and then pray together. An incredible experience, a beautiful sight!We have had church along Colfax a thousand times, standing in small circles, praying, seeing Jesus show up in the midst of two or three gathered in His name. Church most basic. But tonight I see church as it looked in Acts, gathered in homes, eating, sharing, praying. Here we are, rich and poor, doing church, being church. The Church on Colfax.On the heels of those incredible moments, I stand to read the Christmas Story.
As a pastor, I have read it for over thirty years at Christmas Eve services. I’ve read it to thousands, but tonight, in this decrepit motel, the crowd is small. No comfy seats, no sound system, no hot band, no cool video. Many of us here struggle with mental health. Addictions are rampant. Several have practiced prostitution. I know the stories of both rich and poor, stories of pain and beauty a part of both groups. Different as we all are, we are more similar, just people, broken, walking the same long road. All needing Jesus, all needing each other.Memories fade as I look at these people, in this moment, in this place. I read, the words lingering—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels. There in the midst, baby Jesus, the same Jesus now here in the midst of this room this beautiful night. Rich or poor, it matters not, the story washes over us. The crowd stilled, the story read, Jesus in the center, Jesus exalted. In a night filled with favorite moments, maybe the best.