On the road, they’d encountered much traffic. Bumper to bumper as they tried to get to the airport. Just as with any other holiday season, everyone seemed to be traveling at the same time. They just wanted to get where they were going. But it was challenging, difficult, tiring.
The couple was headed back to their home. They’d met, here in Eastman, back in high school and been sweethearts ever since. Life had taken them away to another town, another place, as it does for so many who find jobs and lives in more suburban environments. So it was that they were headed back to their home, the place of family, the place of generations; back to their family’s land and property to celebrate Christmas together.
And as they sat in bumper to bumper traffic, all they could think was
At the airport, baggage handlers were moving bag after bag. They just kept coming and, for Peter, he felt like he just couldn’t keep up. He floored his little jeep-style truck, pulling his train of empty baggage cars behind him, running back to the terminal. Perhaps, if he could move a little faster, he could go to break a little earlier.
But the bags kept coming. He got back to the terminal and helped his colleagues load up the bags from the conveyor belts onto the baggage cars. There they were, bag after bag, coming at a rapid pace. Another train of baggage cars pulled up behind him and began to load as well. Soon there was a third; everyone, moving at a frantic pace.
Peter looked at his watch, seeing it was still six hours until his shift ended; the same amount of time as the last time he looked. But he felt like he’d lived hours in his life in between watch glances. And then he considered all the traffic he would have to push through to get home. And he though to himself
Up at security, a TSA agent silently repeated, “Non-anxious presence. Non-anxious presence.” That was part of her training: when engaged by an angry passenger, maintain a non-anxious presence. Rachael worked hard to do so, for while she’d been cursed by many passengers, this particular one was really getting under her skin.
She motioned to her supervisor, who had just finished running his wand through a passenger’s bag. The supervisor came over and took a turn getting cursed out, trying to calm down the angry passenger. Rachael returned to her post, motioning for another passenger to come through the metal detector. This passenger set it off, and so she took him aside, gently using her wand to see what might be causing the problem.
Outside, she could hear the wind howling. Even this deep in the recesses of the airport, surrounded by the noise of x-ray machines, beeping metal detectors and scanners, people chatting, shoes and laptops banging into plastic trays, and the now screams of that angry passenger, she could hear the wind. The forecasted winter storm was coming.
No matter her state, she had empathy for all these passengers who were struggling through security, only to be met by a winter storm as they boarded their flights. And she thought to herself,
The couple finally reached the airport after struggling through traffic. They grabbed their bags and followed the signs down the walking path toward the terminal. Movement was slowed by cross traffic and by the wind that howled. The smell of snow was in the air as the wind quickly passed their noses, chilling them.
So they tried to move faster, but the luggage, wheeled as it was, still formed a weight around their ankles. But they kept moving, the lights of the terminal growing brighter. They thought to themselves that it would be much warmer in Eastman when they finally got there to see their family. There, it might be rainy, but it’d at least be above freezing.
They were well prepared for this trip, having printed their boarding passes at home and having checked-in to their flight on their phones. As they entered the terminal, they moved quickly past the airline counters and toward security. But they didn’t make it far. The security line stretched back to just beyond the airline counters. It was so long, they couldn’t even see the metal detectors.
And so, they sat down on top of their luggage, dreaming of Eastman, and thought silently to themselves
A rumor was floating around. Peter had heard it the last time he’d picked up a load of baggage. While he pondered on it, he felt the snow whipping into his face. The storm had arrived. The snow stung, it got in his eyes and made them water, but he kept moving toward the plane, for he had to keep working.
But even as he struggled with the snow and the wind, he wondered about the rumor. It meant he might have an extended break; time to refresh and warm up. There was hot coffee in the break room. One of the TSA agents had brought delicious cookies they’d baked at home.
So while he hated it for the passengers, silently he hoped that the rumor was true, that there would be a massive cancellation of flights. He pressed on with his bags, scolding himself for wanting a delay, but simultaneously hoping that he got a nice long break.
He needed a break, for it was a cold, snowy, frantic, kind of night. He needed
Rachael saw a young couple coming toward her. They looked particularly tired and worn as they sat on their luggage. The wife, she noticed, was very pregnant, looking like she might give birth anytime. Thankfully, TSA rules had just changed and pregnant women could fly and didn’t have to take off their shoes, which would save this particular young lady quite a bit of trouble.
She watched them approach, hoping they’d make their flight. She’d heard the rumor about mass cancellation, too, and she breathed a silent prayer to herself for the young couple and for all the passengers:
The young couple approached the metal detectors. As the wife stepped forward, the TSA agent said, “remove your shoes.” She looked puzzled; she was aware of the rule change regarding pregnant women. She said to the agent, “I’m pregnant and have a note from my doctor allowing me to fly, even at 35 weeks.” But he grew sterner: “take OFF your shoes.”
A female TSA agent overheard this and started to step forward, giving this young, pregnant, Eastman-native some hope that she would be saved from the hardship of bending over to take off her shoes. But the supervisor called the female agent away, and so this young lady had no choice but to carefully, slowly, and uncomfortably bend over and take off her shoes.
The husband started to protest, but the TSA agent gave him the look. So he did his best to help his wife take off her shoes. When they were finally off, the husband went back to retrieve one of the plastic tubs to put the shoes in, but they were out of tubs. The TSA agent held up a hand signaling that they would have to wait until another tub was available.
And so there they stood, bare feet on a cold tile floor, surrounded by impatient travelers, 35 weeks pregnant, waiting for a plastic tub. And they thought to themselves
Rachael had seen the whole thing happen, but her supervisor needed her to calm down another angry passenger. This time it was her turn to empathize, listen, and yet be firm. She said to herself, “non-anxious presence, non-anxious presence.” But while reminding herself of her training and being screamed at with expletives, she couldn’t help but be distracted by the young couple, waiting for a plastic tub.
She watched them and felt tremendous sympathy. The wife was so visibly uncomfortably pregnant. To be delayed by the simplest of items! The TSA really needed to buy more of those tubs. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t. Her attention was jerked back to focus when the passenger began to scream louder. She gently replied to the man while silently praying for the couple,
Peter returned to the terminal to collect more bags. The snow was falling harder and the wind had picked up even more. He saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles running rapidly across the tarmac, headed toward what he’d heard was an overturned deicing truck. He’d encountered some ice, too, that had sent his empty train of baggage cars momentarily fish tailing. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the rumor of mass cancellation came true.
As he approached the terminal, he found the conveyor belts stilled and his supervisor waiting. “All flights are cancelled,” the supervisor said. “Take a load off. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to resume baggage deliveries.” Peter hated it for the passengers, but he was delighted for himself. He and his colleagues quickly ran to the break room to grab something warm to drink and one of those cookies from the TSA agent.
When they arrived, they settled in for what each of them hoped would be a while. The break was welcomed. But even still, Peter said a quick prayer for all the travelers:
The couple finally made it through security. The wife was putting her shoes back on when her husband nudged her to look at the flight status boards. Each of the flights had just switched to cancelled. They rushed to the nearest Delta desk to get more information, somehow reaching the desk before most of the other passengers. The desk attendant carefully explained that their flight was cancelled and they would be booked on another flight when it came available, but certainly not before tomorrow.
There they were, having finally made it to the airport and through security, and suddenly stuck. The husband asked about a hotel. The desk attendant was very sorry, but all the hotels were booked in the area. They’d just have to ride out the storm in the airport.
And so they found some comfortable chairs, near outlets for their phones, and settled in. It was certainly uncomfortable, in her pregnant state, but such was the reality they had to deal with. They’d eventually get to Eastman, their family home, and there they’d be happy and comfortable. This was just a little discomfort for a time.
As they settled in, they prayed,
But suddenly the wife felt a sharp pain. She leaned forward into the pain, looking with panic at her husband. It went away, and she relaxed, but only for a moment, for the next contraction came hurriedly. This was different than the Braxton-hicks contractions she’d been feeling for sometime. This was real.
She told her husband that she thought the baby might be coming. He panicked, glancing around for a help desk. He saw a red phone on the wall, about a hundred yards down the hall, with a Red Cross hanging over it. He ran for the phone, picked it up, and a voice said, “what’s your emergency?” He explained that his wife was in labor.
Soon, very soon indeed, there was the electric whir of a golf cart-style ambulance. It picked them up and rushed them away from the gate. A few minutes later, the husband saw a sign for a clinic down a hall, but they didn’t turn that way. He asked the driver where they were going. The driver explained that the clinic was full of patients; they didn’t have any space for his wife. They were taking her, instead, to the room where the TSA agents working doubles could take a nap. That room had cots and the doctors would come there to attend to his wife.
When they reached the room, the driver got the wife settled onto a cot, told the husband all would be well, and to wait about five minutes and a doctor would soon be there. Then he left.
But the baby wouldn’t wait. Suddenly, quickly, the contractions picked up. The husband scurried around the room, looking for a phone, something, to call someone to come help, but his wife yelled, “just come hold my hand!” And so there they were, alone, on a cot, as their child came into the world.
In the break room, Rachael saw her friend Peter. They sat together as an airport Vice President explained to them that the airport was shut down but she needed all of the employees to stay put. The Vice President explained that there was no safe way home because the roads were a mess and, when the tarmac was cleared and planes could take off again, they would need their help. As such, she explained, they would all be getting extra overtime pay.
That was something to cheer about, but most of the employees simply sipped their coffee, ate a snack, and distracted themselves with what was on TV.
As the Vice President left, the TV suddenly grew blindingly bright. A baggage screener went over and hit the TV on the side, like it was one of those old TVs that had lost horizontal hold. But the screen only grew brighter. Then suddenly, on the screen, there was a face saying, “don’t be afraid! A great thing has happened that is good news of great joy for all people! Go, for you will find a young couple having just given birth in the TSA nap room.”
And then, just as suddenly, and still with blinding light, there was a choir singing on the TV, “glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill, to all.” Then the flash was gone, the TV returned to the football game, and everyone stared at each other in amazement.
“Well I’m not going. That was some Russian troll bullcrap.” Yelled one of Peter’s coworkers. Everyone laughed, but Peter was intrigued. He grabbed Rachael’s hand and said, “come on, let’s go check it out.”
They found the couple in the TSA nap room, holding a newborn baby. It was the couple that Rachael had recognized earlier, the one that had captured her attention even while being yelled at. Peter and Rachael carefully went over to the couple, explaining what had happened in the break room.
The wife, clear eyed with a look of loving care, said to them, “I’m so glad you came. We knew God had done a miraculous thing through us. Now go, tell your friends, tell everyone, the good news that today, a savior is born.”
And so Peter and Rachael returned to the break room, sharing the good news that today, a savior was born.
And so was the birth of Jesus: ordinary, unremarkable, another birth on another day to a couple weary from traveling; a couple having to make-do with less than desirable circumstances for a birth.
And so was the birth of Jesus: the news came first to the the unremarkable, the average, ordinary, and easy to overlook persons.
And so was the birth of Jesus, who brings mercy to all of us on our journeys of faith. In Christ’s mercy, Jesus walks with us, travels with us, on all the journeys of life. No matter the path we walk, no matter if it’s been the straight and narrow or the crooked and wide, no matter if we’ve known morality or immorality, no matter if we’ve been wandering far and wide, we can say this Christmas, with confidence,
Kyrie Eleison, which means
Lord, have mercy.
For we are all travelers, sojourners, and into our life a savior is born for us this day, in the city of Eastman, who is Christ the Lord. Christ is here with us tonight, offering in his mercy to walk the journey of faith with us as we travel through this life.
Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy on all of us weary travelers walking the road of life. Do you need mercy tonight?
And so it was that “[i]n those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1-20)