Christmas Eve we went Native. Along with countless Mikepercs villagers, we braved the frigid air and snow flurries to attend the Szent Este (literally "Holy Night" or Christmas Eve) service at our village Hungarian Reformed Church.
As we approached the church building with its stately transylvanian-style steeple in the deep darkness of 5pm, older women served hot drinks to lines of villagers waiting to enter the church. Everyone greeted each other with hearty "Boldog Karacsonyt!" (Merry Christmas) and a jovial "Kellemes Uj Evet!" (Happy New Years) and we were pleased to see many village friends among the crowd which almost filled the church to brim.
I must admit I felt a certain apprehension as I entered the old church building. Although not terribly large, the sanctuary could only be described as cavernous as we darkened the dim doorway. This was THE Hungarian Reformed Church with a liturgy far more formal than anything I was used to. And to be a foreigner in such a setting made me all the more self-conscious of doing or saying something terribly inappropriate here, purely out of ignorance.
The Church was almost as cold inside as the wintry air was outside, as the old building had no heat. Gas heaters, like those you see at restaurants who used outdoor areas in the winter, worked tirelessly to pour some warmth into the old building, but all felt compelled to stay fully bundled in hats and coats for the duration of the service.
Although I could scarcely understand the words that were sung and spoken, I can attest that it was a lovely little service. But what caught me by surprise was neither the delicately carved canopy above the pastor's podium nor the austere pipe organ that echoed through the cavernous edifice. What struck me as both strange and awkward was when the hallowed instruments began ringing out an all too familiar tune: "So this is Christmas ... and what have you done ... another year over ... a new on just begun." Of course, the words were being sung in Hungarian, but the tune was unmistakable. My friend Christine, visiting from Texas, and I looked at each other and could not help but giggle a little.
Here in a formal, high church Hungarian service rang out the John Lennon's Happy Christmas song. It was strange and unexpected, some might say inappropriate, but it got me thinking about how God might view the things the masses so quickly deem inappropriate.
How inappropriate was it for Jesus, Son of God and King of Kings to be born among livestock? How inappropriate for the purest of the pure Jewish Messiah to speak to a Samaritan woman, especially that Samaritan woman -- and then bring her restoration? How inappropriate was it for Paul, a Jew among Jews, to go to the Gentiles?
Let's take it a step forward into our times. How inappropriate is it that a balding oriental man and his family (The Chuns) would reach out to Hungarian village kids through a sport like baseball?
The fact is that God so often uses the strange and obscure and even inappropriate things to work His good will.
So let the ancient sounding pipe organ ring out John Lennon's Happy Christmas and maybe the Mikepercs masses will see that the God of this hallowed old church did not die with the church founders hundreds of years ago. He was born in a stable, was around when that song was penned in 1971, remains alive today ready to touch lives in poignant ways.