Friday, January 15, 2016

KKQ 2016: Friday Evening, Christmas

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Friday Evening, Christmas
Psalm 96; Luke 2:15-20

For three years I sang in the children's choir at Otey Memorial Parish in Sewanee, Tennessee.  I loved our black and white choir robes, and the paperclips marking what we would be singing from our little red hymnals.  But most of all, I loved Lessons and Carols.  Every December we joined the University Choir - or were they angels? - in the cathedral-sized chapel for a service of scripture and music celebrating the coming of Christ.

My dad and me when I was in the junior choir.

We practiced our little anthem - tu-ra-lu-ra-lu, pat-a-pat-a-pan...  We practiced sitting still for the long readings from scripture.  And we practiced and practiced and practiced processing up and down the aisles, singing while holding a lighted candle.  I will never forget the first time I heard, in that enormous candle-lit darkness full of people and evergreens and anticipation, the first time I heard a solo soprano voice begin, Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed...

So it was that God, in the words of one of the collects of Christmas, joined earth to heaven and heaven to earth, casting on what had until then been only a dream, only a possibility, only a prophet's hope.  Many of us have made incarnate today something that didn't exist when we woke up this morning.  A pile of cut fabric, a cast-on row, a stack of increases or decreases.  With even the first two stitches the yarn or thread is stronger than it was as a single strand, the foundation for all that yet will be.

For he is our childhood's pattern, my favorite Christmas hymn continues.  Day by day like us he grew.  He was little, weak and helpless; tears and smiles like us he knew.  Our hymnal calls it our lifelong, not just childhood's, pattern, which feels more true, or aren't we growing all the time, sometimes up, sometimes out, sometimes deep inside ourselves.  And don't we sometimes feel little, weak, and helpless?  Aren't our days filled, like our Savior's were, with tears and smiles?  The pattern is always this...we've held it in our hands today...the pattern is always this: something starts small.  A single loop in knitting, the first piece in quilting.  It will have to grow for rows and days and sometimes years before it grows up into a glove or a shawl or a quilt or a Savior.  But every stitch matters.  Every block counts toward what will be a new creation.

A quilt in progress at KKQ

If our works in progress look like nothing yet, we are doing just fine.  Did the baby in the manger look like a messiah?  Did he sound like a son of God?  If angels hadn't appeared with their startling announcement, would the shepherds have noticed there was anything different about his tiny toes and fingers and his cry that melted his momma's heart?  First stitches, first steps, first breaths are humble and delicate and fiddly, like a baby, and we have to handle them carefully.

Nothing at all happened as that solo voice rang out at the beginning of Lesson and Carols.  Nothing, that is, except the perfect stillness that precedes beginning to move.  On the second verse, the choirs joined in, softly at first, so as not to wake the one who had come so far to his birth.  And we walked slowly, a slender thread of candlelight and harmonies processing through the chapel.  At the choir stalls, we filed in, one row behind another and another so that, looking back now, I see how the lights became a fabric, like so many stitches and stories in a quilt, like so many years and stories in a life, day by day.

Not in that poor lowly stable, sings the last verse.  Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by - we shall see him but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high.  I'm not so sure we don't see him in humbleness and lowliness and first rows and fiddly bits.  For all the tenderness of the Christmas story, the starlight and angel song, don't you know Mary and Joseph must have had to swaddle their baby a hundred times before they got it right, growing as they were into their new role as parents.  He was, after all, God incarnate, all flailing arms and tender skin.  Perhaps no one could see it yet, but in those dark infant eyes was the light of the world, in his tiny frame God's embrace of all the world.

Our evening prayer altar at KKQ.

For everything there is a season...  The Christmas season when grace such as we had only dreamed of as a distant light in the darkness became something we could touch and feel, a pattern revealed in sight and sound and the smell of newborn baby.  The first small step in the growth of the body of Christ, which is to say, the growth of who we are.  First stitches of scarves and sweaters and quilts and friendships and other possibilities have been cast on today.  Maybe what we are working on, with our hands, in our lives, in our faith...maybe it has been born and born, again and again and again, already.  If what we are doing feels fiddly or small or weak or helpless, I wonder if we might remember that's how salvation started, too, in the shape of our lifelong pattern of growing day by day, story by story, stitch by stitch?  Amen.

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