Thursday, December 29, 2016


First Christmas, Chicago, IL

The late comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine about his early start in school as the “class clown”. He had observed early on that it’s much easier to get humans to giggle if they’re in a “suppressed situation” such as a classroom, funeral or church. Mary Tyler Moore had a classic TV episode that featured her attempting to suppress the giggles during the funeral service of Chuckes the Clown. And most of us have experienced the real-life phenomenon of just how much the giggles can be utterly contagious and impossible to suppress!

Our family had gathered at church on Christmas Eve to continue a tradition that had been established for all of us since early childhood. The pews were soon filled to capacity as other families joined us, including a young family of four with a five-year old little girl and her small brother behind us. A cute company of little shepherds, wise men, angels, and the holy family recounted the Christmas story. As the very young virgin Mary held up the baby Jesus doll, another little girl had to be removed from the sanctuary by her distraught mother as she reached out yelling, “Baby Doll, Baby Doll!” A few giggles echoed through the pews from knowing parents as the restless little girl behind us was overheard telling her daddy that he was being mean to her, presumably by asking her to remain silent and still.

The priest’s Christmas message was a timely one concerning the reality that he, we, the church, the community, and the world were all imperfect in the light of that perfect birth those two thousand years ago. He encouraged all of us to come to the Christ child as little children, remembering a time before we adults acquired all the baggage of biases and filters that stripped us of our innocence. A time when we were more inclusive and accepting of all people and our defensive shields were not deployed so often. The relevant message resonated with the people and everyone was left standing for the closing prayer in reverent silence.

Then in the stillness as we all stood contemplating the dark night of our souls, there emitted a sharp passing of gas followed by a longer crescendo stretching out to what must have been an interminable amount of time for the young parents behind us. The cringe-worthy, unmistakable sound was within ear-shot of a radius of at least three pews within the circle of embarrassment. I and my unknown "pewmates" immediately began to cast curious glances to locate the uncomfortable source. And then a very sweet voice softly said “Sorry”. The red-faced mother behind us matter-of-factly remarked, “Well, after all, we’re all imperfect!”

That was enough to begin a mounting wave of addictive giggles emanating from the innocent epi-center following the sermon’s climax. The priest must have been completely befuddled about the strange reaction of our section in the back and quickly asked everyone to "pass the peace". As I shook the young father’s hand I assured him that timing is everything! He responded by announcing that "at least everyone will have a story to tell around the Christmas table tomorrow" (or perhaps a blog post). The young mother passed along peace to my pregnant daughter and reminded her of things to come with a child. And for that short period of time, we were all openly celebrating one another in the true spirit of the child we had come to worship.

We attended a family service at church which included a children’s time.  Our director of education asked a group of boys what they would say on the count of 3 if an angel suddenly appeared to them like Mary experienced.
A single small voice piped up and exclaimed “What the........”
The sanctuary exploded in laughter!

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