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.