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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Eve: a sign

12/24

Pastor and musicians three: Micah, Andre and Ralph


Christmas Eve. The last of getting ready. As always need to slip away and get last minute shopping done. Get fresh new Advent candles. Get the church ready. Which means getting Rachelle’s stuff out. RL and I have determined that what we’ll do is put it in the pigeon tower until after Christmas. And my son Dan will play the heavy.

I of course am worried about Andre. He’s promised before to show up and not made it. I can’t reach him by phone. Get concerned. But then see he’s online so hit him up on Facebook and he reconfirms.

About midafternoon, I’m very happy when Leila shows up to help. We change the altar colors from purple to white. Set the Advent candles up. And a new fresh, never been lit, white Christ candle. And she helps me make the Santa Fe style farolitos we will use to light the steps and make a path of light into the church. Ralph’s wife will help get the candles out and dressed with a paper guard and ready to go.

Soon enough, Ralph and Micah are here, ready to rehearse. And mere minutes later, Andre shows up ready to sing. Hallelujah!And Dan is ready to do whatever is needed. Sweep. Vacuum.Take out garbage. Deal with Rachelle.

I listen to the music rehearsal. And I can hear: this is really going to be good. But will anybody show up?

Dan wants to know if Jesus would give him a break around Rachelle. Would he say, I understand. Or would he say, Hey, remember Rachelle? I figure maybe he would say to her, Woman, leave aside your shopping carts and walk….be set free…

Andrea is cooking or Christmas Eve dinner and will therefore not be able to be at worship. So she has come to hear rehearsal. As she listens to Andre sing In the bleak midwinter, she starts to tear up in that unique way of hers.

Daniel gives Rachelle her deadline. And says to her, Now I’m going to trust you.

I’ve wanted to record with Marc. But time is running out. I go downstairs, quickly giving up my plan to go home and change. My traditional Christmas clothes, like my grandfather’s Yule tie, are all packed away in storage anyhow. So I go down to record. Too anxious. We turn off the boiler. Do two takes. Still not too happy. But enough. Can’t do any more. Have to go upstairs and get ready for Christmas. Just enough time to come back up and get my robe on. Get Dan to light the farolitos  after I begin the process.

The sanctuary is beginning to fill up. That itself enough to make me nervous. Looking out,I see a former Occupier. And leaders of orchestras like Carman Moore
Carman Moore and Micah
and David Grunberg and some of the Spectrum Symphony orchestra members. And Pat O’ and Wayne from Open Mics. And Ted and Asya and Katherine from the Center Board. And members of the community. Neighbors. And Anna and Puppy. And now I’m really becoming anxious.

The prelude begins. A sense of excitement. O come,o come Emmanuel. An opening proclamation from Micah 4:
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
4 but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

Andre sings Lo how a rose and everything is silent.

Ready to start O Come All ye Faithful and Micah is on to Joy to the World, but he quickly catches himself and vamps into O come as if that’s what he intended all along.

John, as is our custom, reads from Isaiah 9:
 The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great  light.

After Psalm 96, Andre sings In the Bleak Midwinter. As he nears the end, in the final verse he sings;

What can I give him
, Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man, 
I would do my part.
Yet 
What  can I give him…..

And then pauses…a long silence, then…
Give my heart.

And I am so moved I immediately get into my sermon. I want to know why we are here? What we are expecting? And how the birth of this child to this young woman with  questionable pregnancy born among poor circumstances is a sign. A sign of what?

I know a young woman. A few blocks up. Eight months pregnant. The father an Iraq war veteran with ptsd. They’re being given shelter by someone from the projects or else they would be homeless.

Like all the other homeless in our city. The largest number in history. Doubled during Bloomberg as we built the luxury city. 15,000 more in the last year. Over 20% children. Sign….

The first to get the news are the shepherds. The outsiders. The only ones who sleep outside the city gates. Exposed and vulnerable to the elements. To them the sign is given.

And it’s a sign of hope. As we say here, believing in spite of the evidence and having the courage to work to make the evidence change.

And it’s more than that. It’s about the intersection of beauty and justice, ethics and aesthetics. If we want people to be able to have the courage to work for better future, we have to be able to help them imagine it. See it. Hear it. And so tonight, we have to be able to close our eyes and then hear the angels sing….

Well there was more, but that’s the essence. And it was good. But Ralph slips over and reminds me that I left out the gospel and Hark the Herald.

So like Micah, I vamp my way back and pick up the Luke passage (2: 1-20) and move into the offering as Andre sings Amazing Grace.

It’s time for the sharing of the light. I explain that I grew up with the dramatic lowering of the lights in the sanctuary, lighting one candle from the Christ candle and watching the light spread throughout the congregation as we sing Silent Night. But the symbolism is wrong. It implies that the world was dark and then Jesus came and presto-changeo, light.

Fact is the light has always been there. Since the dawn of creation, when God separated light from dark. When Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery. In the words of the prophets. When the Maccabees stood in resistance to the Syrians.  With John in the desert. It is always there.Sometimes brighter, sometimes dimmer. Sometimes not quite visible below the horizon. But always there. And on this particular  night, gathered and focused and alive in one unique manifestation, in  on unique child. Present, here, now.

And in each of us. So let us share our own light with each other…

My candle won’t catch. So I borrow one from the congregation. And the light goes on. One by one. As we sing Silent Night and the sanctuary glows and twinkles.

And as I look out at the glowing lights, I choke up. Tears welling in my eyes. It has been so long. Eight long years. The night when it was a hearty band of us gathered outside our locked gates, singing carols, just to let the neighborhood know we were still here. Years with just my boys and a few select others. Only our own unaccompanied voices.

And now, as the church year begins with Advent, our new life takes another step here. Dan says, tonight we celebrated Jesus’ birth. But it’s like the church’s rebirth.

And more like my vision than ever. People who have shared in the life of this place throughout the year choosing to come here this night to celebrate the this occasion. And not being disappointed. Finding a real expression of what they believe we are supposed to be.

Almost tears. As we sing Joy to the world. Ted and Asya saw it. That the vision of the center could be real. They introduce me to Naomi Meyer, widow of Rabbi Marshall, who brought B’Nai Jeshurun back to life. Defied the Argentine junta. Worked with my predecessor Bob Davidson and Father Dan Berrigan to found the Interfaith Assembly. She saw our farolitos. Had to see what was inside. Decided to stay.

Katherine comes up. Throws her arms around me. She’s been here through it all. You never gave up, she says in my ear, you never gave up…

There’s holiday greetings to exchange with Peter S, the one preservationist who stood with us, and against the tide, in the whole landmarks fiasco. He’s stayed with us since, but never been inside. (for Peter’s book, see http://salwenpr.com/uwss.html) . And there’s Mario Biagini, not only one of Grotowski’s children, but it turns out, one of his heirs. He wants to talk later.

The service has ended. People have left. Merry Christmas


It’s time to close up and go to family dinner with Andrea. Andre is coming with, just like Christmas Eve’s past.

On the steps, I wish Merry Christmas to Joe and his woman. Then I see George has arrived. Just what is it draws him? I know he's not a Christmas guy, so I just greet him. But then i thin it was Chirstmas that drew him here.

We stop. Share Christmas Eve candles with Karen and Guillaume. And gingerbread cookies. They’re on their way,not back to Montreal, but to Mexico. We wish them bon voyage, but also au revoir. May they return and be part of our community again next year.

We walk up the street together. It is Christmas. And it was for us, this night, our sign.


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