On December 24, the youth group gathered in the new sanctuary in their work clothes, amid stepladders, strings of lights, garlands, and massive rolls of velvet ribbon. For the next few hours, the church reverberated with laughter, chatter, and boom boxes between Christmas carols and “contemporary” music that caused the floorboards to vibrate with the beat. The youth transformed the newly built sanctuary into a Christmas spectacle that was festive without being frivolous. Liz was struck by how enormous the place was and tried to imagine it filled with people.
“Do you really think it’ll be a full house tomorrow night?” she asked Sean as she rolled up the remainder of the ribbon. Sean was sweeping pine needles into a dustpan.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” he replied. “We get over thousand people every week anyway, and it’s been well publicized.”
“True,” said Liz. How well she remembered the stacks of posters they had run off in the office and seeing them all over town the next day; the youth had done their job admirably. They had been sure to post the announcements in the music departments of the local colleges and universities, so that not only the faithful but also classical music enthusiasts would know about the concert. She felt an excitement similar to what she had felt before the musical production of The Sound of Music at the U. of I., where she had played a major role. Yet there was a difference this time. It was less fear, more thrill. Liz had no solos, no dances, no spotlight on herself to anticipate, yet she was no less excited. It had more the feeling of being enormously privileged to be a part – even a small part – of something so magnificent. When the curtain had gone down on the last performance of The Sound of Music, it had been over and done with, leaving an empty space of sorts in her heart and life. But this – this was timeless, eternal, and who could tell? There could very well be eternal results. God could bring anyone through that door, and who could hear the Messiah without being moved in one way or another, especially with someone like Mr. Walker at the helm?
Christmas Eve, an hour before the service was to start, the choir and orchestra members assembled in the choir room. The soloists were walking about in separate corners, doing vocal warm-ups. A few women still had random curlers in their hair. The chatter was low in volume, high in excitement. But all the noise died down altogether when Beverly appeared with her husband. There was a reverent hush throughout the room as she wheeled him down the aisle to the front of the room, and all members of the company gravitated toward them.
Mr. Walker gazed affectionately over the gathering with moist eyes that had the look of one seeing beyond this world into another dimension. For a moment he said nothing, Then he began.
“Thank you. Thank you all for coming. As you know, this is the fulfillment of a life-long dream of mine to perform the complete Messiah. And you have helped make it possible – this magnificent work, dedicated to a magnificent God,” (His face fairly glowed.) “with such people,” he added, smiling appreciatively. “Every one of you has a gift – is a gift from God.” For a moment his eyes met those of Liz, the youngest and newest member of the choir. “Every one of you. Don’t ever forget that.” He winked, and Liz felt as though she had been personally commended by a king. Was it wrong to feel pride at such a moment?
Mr. Walker’s voice grew a little stronger as he went on addressing the company.
“I want you to know how much I appreciate your kind words, your concern, the help you’ve given my wife …” He reached up and patted her hand; Beverly never took her eyes off her husband as he spoke. “And most of all, your prayers. Prayer is so important, even if we don’t know how or what to pray … and so often we don’t. It’s not so much what we pray, prayer is in the heart. Prayer changes us. It may or may not change the situation, but it changes us. It’s letting God be God.”
He paused, then went on, softly yet passionately, “Let God be God. He has blessed us – blessed me – so much …
“If I had only my salvation, I’d be a blessed man, but He’s given me more, so much more. A dear wife and soulmate … ” He squeezed Beverly’s hand, and her eyes glowed with love. ” …beautiful children and grandchildren who love Him and are here tonight. And now … ” (His face broke into a broad smile.) ” … the fulfillment of a dream. If I die tonight, I would still be of all men most blessed.”
Liz was troubled by this last statement. She wished he wouldn’t talk that way! But Mr. Walker and his wife both had a look about them that was not of this world, and they seemed untouched by fear or trouble.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” he added with a confident smile, “but we know Who holds the future. I never would have guessed two months ago, out walking with my wife …” His voice trailed off, and a few choir members awkwardly looked at the floor.
He took a deep breath and added with finality, “But let God be God. ‘ All things work together for good for them that love God.’ So, love God and let Him be God. He knows best. If I live another fifty years, if I die tonight, I’m a blessed man.” He looked up into the face of his wife, who smiled back with the same serene joy. “I’m a blessed man,” he whispered fervently, his eyes gazing into hers.
(to be continued …)