The night is dark and cold. A steady rain falls. The city bus slowly makes its way through town. Inside the bus sit an assortment of travelers. A woman on the way to see her grandchildren. Shift workers heading to and from their jobs. A father and his two young children, who are having trouble staying in their seats. Teenagers with backpacks and headphones plugged into cellphones. There are animals too: a service dog rests next to its owner feat. A kitten peers out of one traveler’s coat.
The bus passes gilded restaurants and fast food chains, million dollar homes, hotels, and homeless shelters, hospitals, food banks and grocery stores. With each stop, the bus methodically gathers and releases its flock.
Inside, the mood is somber. These are days of weariness. Each traveler seems to sit engrossed in their own worries. Unpaid bills and looming costs, jobs yet to be secured, reminders of indignities suffered, things said and not said.
The bus rides in the grim shadow of a society that has lost its way. To quote from the prophet Isaiah:
The roads they have been made crooked;
no one who rides in them knows peace.
Justice is far from these travelers,
and righteousness does not reach them;
They wait for light, but there is only darkness;
and for brightness, but there is only gloom.
The bus continues to ease along its path. It shudders to a stop outside of the hospital. A young woman and her partner wait to board. In broken English, they explain that they have no money to pay the fare. But the driver gently waves to usher them onboard, and the couple steps through the aisle to find their seats. Fellow travelers sneak a glance, noticing that the couple’s clothing is worn and stained. They carry with them a bundle of cloth. The woman cradles it gently in her arms.
The driver calls back to the couple, asking them where they are headed. They have no answer, saying only that the hospital wouldn’t allow them to stay any longer.
Then the bundle of cloth begins to cry, and the fellow travelers lean in to take a closer look. The woman is doing her best comfort the newborn, but she is tired and overwhelmed. A silent tear travels down her own cheek. The partner leans against her to give support, unsure of what else to do. The infant continues to cry.
The cries seem to break through the somber solitude of the bus. The grandmother gets up from her seat, and comes to sit down next to the couple. She puts a tender hand on the woman’s shoulder and offers a smile. Three workers sitting nearby form a shusher’s chorus. At the next stop, the father and his two young children come over as well. The father pats the partner’s back and offers a word of congratulations. The two young children marvel at the wonder of a newborn.
This attention seems to quiet the baby. As the crying dwindles, other travelers come by to pay their respects. A man fishes into his grocery bag and offers food for the young couple. One of the teenagers gives them a box of mints to use as a makeshift rattle. A woman takes off her watch and delicately swings it back and forth to catch the infant’s eye. Though no one on the bus has much to give, they offer what they can.
There is, on this bus, the new beginning of something holy. In this communion of travelers bound for Zion, light breaks forth into the darkness.
Hope is born this night, in simple acts of human love, compassion, and acceptance. Hope is born, not in a glittering tower or an elegant carriage or majestic amphitheater, but in this most humble and proletariat of gathering places.
On this night, we celebrate the God Immanuel, the God who is with us. On this night, we are attuned to the magic and the wonder of God’s presence among us.
On this night of powerful hymns and carols, there is a simple Latin refrain that echoes through time, from a manger in Bethlehem to city bus.
“When we share our love, and offer care, when we share our love, God is present there.”