This trip had been planned a long time in advance. My friend Shawn had invited me to go with him to Disneyland for their very special, once-a-year Christmas candlelight concert. We had the tickets, we had the rooms, the flight was booked … we were ready to go. Then I got sick. Really sick. In the hospital sick. Shawn assured me everything could be cancelled, no pressure. But I really wanted to go!
I’d been out of the hospital for a week and was feeling okay, but then I did something that I normally would not do. I asked the doctor if it would be okay, and I promised myself that I would abide by his decision. “It’s a short plane flight,” I told him, “and we’re not going to be rushing around — this is going to be a leisurely, sit-on-the-bench and watch people kind of vacation.” He hesitated for a moment. “We’re mainly going to see the Christmas concert,” I added, trying not to whine. After considering for a moment, he said, “I think it’ll be okay.” YES! I’m going to Disneyland!
So here we were on a bright Southern California day. “How long since you’ve been to Disneyland?” Shawn asked as we went through the gate. “A long time. Somewhere in the late 90s, I think, coming back from a family reunion in San Diego.” My brother was with me. He took life much too seriously, I thought. He needed to remember what it was like to be a kid.
Shawn and I started at California Adventure and rode the the Big Red Car — a 1/2 size replica of the ones I remembered as a child. We had lunch at the Carthay Circle Restaurant — an elegant meal in a beautiful setting. After that we walked a lot, eventually making our way over to Disneyland proper. We went through the haunted mansion and Frontier Land and the river boats enjoying the lovely warm day.
Sometime later Shawn said, “let’s head back to Main Street. We want to get a place for the concert.” We strolled — couldn’t do anything else because of the crowds — toward the train station. The square was crowded — there were roped off areas for viewing and they were already packed over an hour before the concert. Shawn, as usual, knew the best place to be and we ducked under the rope and stationed ourselves just behind the walkway so we had a clear view of the stage. We were standing beside a lady and her wheelchair. She was standing with the aid of two hiking poles and it was obvious that the nearby wheelchair belonged to her. Her companion asked, “would you like to sit for awhile?” “No, I’ll stand,” she said, giving him a smile. One determined lady. I couldn’t help but notice the lovely crocheted cap on her head or her extremely pale skin.
During the next hour, the lady and I chatted. She told me her mother had been the organist at her church for over 30 years. “I miss organs,” she said. “I do, too,” I told her. “We don’t even have an organ in our church.” “How can you have church music without an organ?” she asked. “We don’t have church music. We just have that modern stuff they call ‘praise music.'” “That’s sad,” she said, and I nodded.
Gradually the sky was turning darker, dusk was settling in. At 5:30 precisely the conductor stepped onto the podium to great applause, then the announcer welcomed us to the Disneyland Candlelight Concert and said the narrator for this evening would be Chris Hemsworth a/k/a Thor. The crowd went wild. Then the procession started — 300 singers from the local high schools in choir robes (I remember choir robes!) making their way up to stage holding candles as they sang.
The music was glorious: Real, honest Christmas music:
“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing glory to the newborn king!”
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”
“God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s power when we are gone astray …”
The narration began with the annunciation from the Luke 1 where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would have a child. Then on to Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem where the baby is born and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. After each reading, the 300 voices were raised in a joyous melody.
My new friend and I sang right along with the choir, loving all the traditional Christmas songs. Forty minutes later, as the concert was coming to an end, Chris Hemsworth talked about the meaning of Christmas — friends, family, love and peace — and I suddenly had a rather sick feeling. “Please don’t end this with ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas.’ Please don’t ruin this.” Then my friend turned to her companion and said, “Look! The trumpets!” And there on top of the Disneyland train station was a phalanx of trumpeters. With a mighty fanfare and a crashing chord from the organ, three hundred voices sang “Hallelujah!”
A cheer went up from the crowd and the glorious words of Handel’s Messiah rang out: King of Kings…Lord of Lords… Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace …
We sang, she and I. We sang and Sang and SANG! We harmonized (or tried to). I sang alto, which I knew, and some soprano and even a bit of the tenor. At one point I think I was harmonizing with myself. Where did all this breath come from? Two weeks ago I could only pant and now I was singing, Singing, SINGING from my toes. I was singing like I’ve never sung before and probably won’t again until the day of resurrection when I’m actually before the throne of God.
Finally, the last notes of the triumphant Messiah rose on the night air and then suddenly it was over. The Disneyland shepherds were smoothly moving the crowd along, taking down the ropes and pointing the way to the walkways. Quickly I turned to the lady. “Tell me,” I asked. “Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?” She turned full on to me and it looked like her face was lit from within. “He’s my Savior!” There was no question — she glowed.
A moment later, she regally, deliberately lowered herself into the wheelchair. The crowd came between us. I called out, not knowing if she could hear me, “I’ll see you on the Other Side.” After a moment, a slender white hand waved and then she was gone.
We walked away, following the crowd, it was all over so soon. “Well?” Shawn asked. “I loved it! It was perfect! It was beautiful. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect start to Christmas.” It is a memory I will cherish. It was what Christmas is all about. It was Christmas.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
Merry Christmas, dear friends.