O Holy Night at the Clothes Closet
I held a five-month-old Iraqi child in my lap for almost a half hour last night. Any long-distance grandma knows how we ache to hold our own grandchildren, and leap to any opportunity to snuggle another woman’s child or grandchild.
The Clothes Closet our church runs was busier than ever, the last time we’d be open before Christmas. We had over 50, counting infants and children. We’d planned a special evening: candy canes or Peppermint patties for all, our guitarist quietly strumming Christmas carols on his guitar from the back of the room. Hence we were a little short on help—so the on-duty mission leader, Jim, asked if I would take over seeing that the little kids were occupied. The guitarist, John, was the one who usually got out the crayons and old computer paper for the younger kids to scribble on.
I soon noticed that a young Iraqi girl was in charge of her little brother, a five-month-old in a car seat. He wasn’t having any of it, starting to squirm, whimper, looking quite unhappy to be jostled around as she swung the car seat into a somewhat safer position on the floor. It didn’t take me long to ask her if I could hold the baby, he looked fussy. She nodded and I was in heaven. But would he just keep crying, with me, a stranger trying to comfort him?
I centered him on my knee and wiggled it a bit, and he seemed to get happier. Soon he had forgotten his troubles and was watching all the preschoolers getting their paper and crayons. All he seemed to care was that at least he wasn’t in his car seat anymore.
I soon started asking ages and schools of the children; then I got brave enough to ask what county the big sister was from: yes, Iraq. I’d suspected as much. She was nine. Their mother wore a Muslim headdress; our client base is about a third each Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and U.S.
Finally I stood him up so I could look him in the face and he could see me, too, and get used to the idea it was a stranger holding him. He was now smiling. Score! I looked at his straight black hair, his dark eyes, his olive skin, and it didn’t take much to imagine that this would have been much more what the baby Jesus (although technically Jewish) looked like than the “white” babies in all those Christmas pageants in my mostly lily white church experience.
When I looked at his nine-year-old sister, I also thought immediately of baby Moses’s big sister in the Exodus story of the Old Testament. What a great caretaker she was. How smart and quick she was to seize upon the idea of asking Pharaoh’s daughter, who found the baby hiding from Pharaoh’s harsh decree, if she wanted a Hebrew nurse maid for the baby. How brave that big sister was, to offer the scheme, even knowing the house of Pharaoh was of another religion and ethnic group.
This nameless Iraqi child reached across all the political, ethnic and religious barriers of our world to grab my grandmother’s heart, and I wondered if his own grandmother was half a world away, torn too by the huge distance. Where was this child–any child–safe in a world gone mad? This Iraqi baby reached across centuries and millennia to connect me with those Jewish babies of old who both were protected from insecure madmen. Both Moses and Jesus grew up to leaders–saviors for their people.
And here I was in a little Presbyterian church in Virginia in 2014, wondering about it all.
It was a holy night at the Clothes Closet.
What is your “o holy night” experience: already this year, or another? I’d love to hear your stories.
We join millions around the world praying for the grieving parents and families of those children killed recently in Pakistan, two years ago in Connecticut, and in too many small towns and large cities around the world.