I’m not the type to listen to Christmas music out of season, but I read the Christmas story year-round. The angel’s proclamation — I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people1.)) — feels fitting for snowy and sunny days alike. It’s a simple message: Things are good. There is joy.
Apart from the angels themselves, nothing inherently extraordinary heralds this great joy. Ordinary shepherds receive news of an ordinary occurrence. This will be a sign to you, the angel explains, you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Babies are born every day, yet this was the sign to the shepherds. Like the star in the story, great joy shines out from ordinary occurrences.
And all the people, as the angel promised, seem to have gotten the message. Cycling UK, a charity promoting what its name suggests, says that learning to bike can be a life-changing moment for the rider2. I know because I watched their video on how to teach an adult to ride a bike, in preparation to teach my adult roommate, Masaoud.
That Sunday, we (Masaoud and our other roommates; it was a family affair) rented a bike and headed to an empty road. At first, Masaoud straddled the bike with the seat lowered, so that he could walk with both feet touching the pavement. Once he was comfortable there, he pedaled with me holding the back of the saddle and one of the handlebars. Finally, he began to pedal unsupported. We set small goals: one push with the right foot; one push each with the right and left feet; three rotations; to the tree a few meters away.
I wondered how long it might take for it to click as he made slow progress. But then, an attempt to get to the tree turned into ten meters, turned into twenty, thirty — and he was gone, biking.
And Cycling UK was right. He biked back to us with a smile too big for his face. We greeted him like a championship-winning athlete, clapping, cheering, and asking him how he felt. I feel so happy, he replied. I feel free. An ordinary occurrence, learning to ride a bike, but life-changing and full of great joy.
On the way over, my other roommate, Caleb, and I had discussed our churches’ sermons. He admitted that he wasn’t quite sure how his church’s sermon connected to the gospel. I joked that, if Cycling UK was right, maybe there was more gospel in the life-changing experience of learning to bike than in the sermon.
I can’t speak to the sermon, but seeing Masaoud pedal freely, I thought of the angel’s message: Things are good. There is joy.
Joseph McDonough is a junior in Kirkland House studying Philosophy and Russian