Thursday, January 04, 2007

yeah, so then I made up the Latin

Amid the other crazy relatives that came in for Christmas this year, my sister Beth joined me not only for Christmas, but for many of my Christmas activities. What does that mean? It means she sang for the 10:30 service because I offered her up to Jeff; she glued animal headdresses, passed them out, and helped lead the kids at the 4pm Christmas Eve service; and she came with me to the hospital when I was visiting to sing. It's so good to have a little sister who loves you enough to let you tell her what to do!

While we were at the hospital, Beth sat in the atrium, played on the piano and sang. I came out with someone so they could here Christmas music on Christmas Eve. As we made some requests and Beth played, others gathered along the railing of the different floors - not unusual, people usually stop what they're doing to listen to her when Beth sings. After we made requests, one woman asked Beth to sing Ava Maria, which of course isn't in the hymnal she had.

Now, I have it on good authority that this girl has only sung that song once (at our Papa's funeral) and can't just whip it out like she can other pieces. But Beth began to sing, and the woman's face lit up. She only sang one verse but that one verse clearly made that woman's day.

Later when we were in the car driving back to church, Beth confessed a little something to me. "I only knew so much of the song - Ava Maria, gratia plena. Yeah, so then I made up the Latin." This cracked me up - in part because I had no idea that the Latin she had sung was completely made up (and this girl never took Latin, so that means she's just throwing in the Latin words she knows) and how matter of fact she was about the whole thing.

But Beth said something that made perfect sense, that really stuck with me. "That woman just wanted the sound. She didn't care about the words." And it's true. The woman who requested the song wanted the memory of the notes, not the words. She wanted what that sound made her feel. It wasn't so much about the heavy content of praising Mary as it was the memories this song connected her to, the feelings it invoked.

That same day I also noted to Beth that I need the memories, the feelings her voice invokes. I of course appreciate what we celebrate at Christmastide, know that even if the Grinch came and stole all our decorations and feasts, it would still be Christmas. But for me Christmas isn't Christmas until I hear my sister and my mother sing their descant to Silent Night. I need to hear that sound, not the words their singing, but the sound. I hear it and I know, I feel, it's Christmas.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

God Bless the Child

Texts: Psalm 148; Luke 2:41-52

Jesus. Jesus! Jesus ben Joseph!!! Excuse me, have you seen a parentless young man roaming about? He looks like, well, he looks like every other kid you see around here. Answers to the name of Jesus. Well, if he ever answers anyone. That boy… I may only be his neighbor, not his mother, but I’m going to give him a piece of my mind when we find him. Leaving his party behind, staying in Jerusalem, worrying his mother so. We’ve been looking for him for three days and the way Mary’s been carrying on, you’d think he’d been dead for three days. But she and Joseph have reason to worry. One young boy amid the thousands and thousands of pilgrims for Passover still left in the city. That’s why so many of us from our party joined them in the search. It’s quite the effort. For three days we’ve been searching through the crowds, in the markets, amid the revelry. I tell you, my legs are getting tired.

We’d had such a lovely Passover here in Jerusalem. Friends and family from Nazareth, all cozy in the upper room as we remembered what God has done for us. Jesus didn’t seem like he was going to cause any trouble. He played with the other children well – went searching around the room with them during the Seder for the lacham anya - the poor man’s bread - which had been hidden. I know Mary had been glad to see her son mingle with the other children this trip.

God bless the child, he doesn’t always fit in. He’s just… he’s just different. Some kids are different because they’re not as quick or they’re mean or something – but that’s not Jesus. He’s a sweet young thing and he’s as smart as any of the kids in town and… well, you didn’t hear this from me, but I’d wager he could give the scribes and rabbis from Nazareth to Jerusalem a good challenge. He’s always asking the most interesting questions, confusing both the children AND adults around him. I’ve scratched my head at more than one of his stories about kings and beggars, seeds and lilies of the valley…

But it’s not just that he’s smarter than most of the people we know that makes Jesus different. It’s like he’s your every day kid but at the same time not at all. He occasionally plays with the other kids – they are all happy to play with him. When he wants to be, he can be quite the charmer. But for the most part, Jesus would rather listening to the elders of our town speak about the Torah or debate the Talmund. For a while, his cousin John would come to play with him – I think John’s mother Elizabeth was hoping some of Jesus easy keeled behavior would rub off. Gossip at the well – not that I listened too closely of course – but gossip at the well was that John would get himself into trouble at least once a week. John stopped coming around though when he drowned one of Joseph and Mary’s sheep. He said it was an accident – that he was trying to practice, whatever that means. After that, we didn’t see much of him. Even when Jesus spent time with John, he never got into trouble. He’s always been such a good boy, too good sometimes.

I remember the first time I met the boy. He and his parents had just moved back from Egypt I believe – why they were there of all places I don’t know. I met Mary first. I had seen her around a few times when she herself was a young child, but I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her since she and Joseph were engaged. I recall there had been some gossip about those two, but I don’t pay much attention to stuff like that.

I met Mary at the town well when we had both come to draw water during the early morning. She told me a little about Joseph the carpenter and Egypt, but most of her talk was about her young boy Jesus. Oh, how she doted on her child. Many a mother adores her child – especially a firstborn son – but Mary, Mary more than just adores or even dotes. He had been such a sweet baby, she said – good disposition, not overly needy, and had quickly learned to sleep through the night. The terrible twos and threes apparently skipped right by him. He learned to walk and talk quicker than any other children his age. He always said please and thank you and never had cross word for his parents.

When she was speaking about her son, it almost seemed to me that she was in awe of him. Yes, yes, every child’s first step and first word are wonderful exciting occasions, especially for a first time mother, but I don’t believe I’d ever seen a mother in “awe” of her own child.

I must admit, I thought Mary was a little off when I first met her. Sweet girl, but the time in Egypt must have done something to her. Because no child is that good and no mother should be that impressed by their own child.

I thought that until I met Jesus himself. He was still a young tot then. Not quite old enough to start helping with his father’s work but old enough to leave his mother’s side with no worries. I came across him not too many days after speaking with Mary at the well. A nice looking child, though not as good looking as my own son of course, he was sitting underneath one of the town’s olive trees, watching children play in the field across the way.

I knew who he was – in a town of a couple thousand, it’s easy to spot the newcomers. I walked over to him, planning to encourage him to join the other children in play. We don’t get many new families into town, these kids haven’t had to welcome anyone new in quite sometime. I didn’t know if they weren’t including him in their games.

I didn’t even get to ask the boy if he would like to play with the other children. When I was still a few feet away from him, the child turned his head from watching the games being played to me. He had a look on his face that startled me. The face was that of a young boy’s, but the expression wasn’t. Looking into his eyes, it was like I was staring at a world-wise sage not a child. He unnerved me. And then, he smiled. His smile, kind and sweet, was pure child. It was joyful and innocent just like a young boy ought to be. I don’t remember what words we may have exchanged; I just remembered his two vastly different countenances.

I’ve had conversations with him since that first day we met. I always come away with a similar feeling to the one I had the first time we met. When you speak with him, he’s completely listening to you. And yet, he’s not there. Does that even make sense? How can a person be two opposing things at once? But that’s Jesus, at least that’s how I see him. He’s your average every day child in some ways, and yet he’s not a child at all. Don’t know how to explain it any better. He’s just different… I know it, his mother knows it, goodness, I think the whole town knows it.

Well, my goodness… I just meant to rest a moment and look at me, I’ve gone running my mouth, telling all these stories about that boy. I suppose I’d better keep looking for Jesus. If you ask me, looking for him in these markets makes about as much sense as looking for the living among the dead. That boy is more likely to be up in the Temple, sitting on the large stones, listening to the teachers ask questions of their pupils than be among this wild time.

Actually, knowing Jesus, it wouldn’t surprise me if HE were the one asking questions.

I’m sure he’ll turn up somewhere. He may have left us but he’s not one to stir up too much trouble. This is as much commotion Jesus has ever made and will probably end up being the story we all tell on him at his wedding. Kids… I’m off now. If you should see the boy, let him know his folks are looking for him. Jesus. Jesus!