I was glad when our recent snow melted just enough–and city workers and merchants had shoveled and salted enough–to make narrow walkable trails through downtown. On both the 23rd and 24th, after several days of being cooped-up inside, I took long walks around downtown. As I walked, I saw . . .

. . . a little girl, maybe three years old, outside Sisters McMullen, bury her face in a huge cupcake, topped with white icing. She took obvious delight in its taste, and those of us who looked on took delight in the “Santa beard” the icing left on her chin and rosy cheeks.

. . . three young adults, near the Grove Arcade, shout their “Merry Christmas” to a “friend” across the street. They had smiles on their faces as they greeted him, but I heard one of them mutter to another: “He’s such a jerk” (that’s not actually what he said, but it’s a printable version). It hurt to witness that duplicitous exchange, and part of the pain was my awareness that, too much and too often, all of us wear masks of mannered politeness which conceal seething anger or shrugging apathy or simmering resentment. In a brief moment, I felt, yet again, how hard it is to live the angels’ message of “peace on earth, goodwill to all” and how desperately we need that peace–in interpersonal relationships and international relations.

. . . inside the Grove Arcade, two mountain musicians fiddling, playing the harmonica, singing, and tapping their feet. They had drawn a small crowd of preschool children who invented, on the spot, their own style of round dancing. They moved to the music with such beautiful innocence and wonderful freedom, and they danced my imagination to another and better world–to the “real” world of God’s own dancing joy.

. . . outside Malaprop’s Bookstore, a tall, rail-thin man, with piercing eyes and an infectious smile, was showing and selling lovely, quirky, brightly-colored (mostly differing shades of intense blue) paper-mache flowers to passers-by. Later, talking to him over a cup of coffee inside, he told me more about his life as an artist and about how, because it was Christmas, he “just had to make something I could take to the streets and be with people.”

. . . near the Bistro, a man with a guitar and a woman with a slightly raspy but sweetly soulful voice, offered to the rest of us a fine, bluesy version of “Away in a Manger.” The guitar player is often there–I think, from the handful of brief conversations I have had with him that he is homeless; as these sidewalk-musicians got to the line “no crib for a bed” it struck me again that Mary and Joseph were homeless the night Jesus was born. And, I was convicted again that mercy for the broken and justice, especially for the marginalized, are at the heart of the Good News.

So, from the streets of this intriguing, charming and challenging town, Merry Christmas!