Some of the people who belong to our church live at a special accommodation place down Sydney road. There’s a bit of traffic between the church and the lodge as it’s too far to walk, especially if you have cerebral palsy and the tram is not accessible.
The lodge has about eighty rooms in three storeys of 1970’s brick veneer built around a courtyard. This middle area is an outdoor meeting space, the crowd for Christmas Carols gathers here.
I enter from one end of the rectangular marquee, which is essentially a plastic shed for the courtyard. The floor is concrete, all the seats are full. People are perched on or buried in couches, leaning on crutches or sitting further back outside on wooden benches. Some are festive, wearing Santa hats and reindeer ears some are just waiting in their worn out old track pants and t-shirts.
A lot of people from local churches have turned up to sing – along with some of the residents who’ve joined the carolers. There’s been no rehearsal, all we have is the 1959 booklet of Christmas Carols, it has a vintage feel.
When the first song strikes up something ripples in the air. Randomly we seem to have hit on exactly the right combination of voices to make these carols do their work. In Silent Night there are harmonies, daring little riffs, sweet sopranos and thrumming bass voices– ‘all is calm, all is bright’. I can see a gathering attention in the listeners – shoulders shift, heads are raised, people’s faces soften.
We go through the carol booklet by request. In Joy to the World we sing, ‘Let every heart prepare him room.’ There’s a bloke in the middle of the marquee whose face is a map of tenderness. He stands up and bursts out, “Youse are all great singers!” he says it again and again. We are all smiling and hooting. From other listeners there’s a secret little turning of the head and a hand tentatively touching the face. It’s as if we have become children again.
Oh Holy Night gets called for, unashamedly misty eyed we croon ‘Oh night divine, Oh night divine.’ When we reach number four, Hark the Herald Angels, another bloke from up the back comes forward, holding his arms straight out and giving the thumbs up.
Singing ‘Once in Royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed’ I look around at unglamorous people perched on crappy old couches. I am in the company of angels and shepherds. I see the wonder on all of our faces to be in this beauty, this moment. This is Christmas, God with us.