Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mouths to be kissed

Here in northeast Illinois, the sun has set on 2006. Streaks of bright but fading blue appear behind the drizzly grey clouds in the western sky. Farewell to the old year. The sun rises tomorrow on 2007.

But first comes the night, and as Steven Sondheim said in a song, "there are mouths to be kissed, and mouths to be fed . . . in the meanwhile." In the dark, there will be parties, penance, toasts. Truths to tell, truths deferred, temptations. Movies to watch, curled up on the couch in pajamas. Emotions to master, feelings to indulge. Glitter, gaiety, the unfettered festivities of all of us who live to see another year begin. Bitterness, sorrow, confession, forgiveness.

Tonight's passage is like the part of a Shakespeare play where the characters are transported to the Forest of Arden, or the magical isle in The Tempest, a place where fools and clowns play at a story line that parallels that of the noble characters. Life is turned inside out or propriety is laid aside, showing lovers and tragedians their flaws, mistakes and folly. At the end of Act Five the ones whose fates we have followed most intently emerge with greater self-understanding, prepared to love unselfishly or repent in preparation for death. Drama and poetry make meaning of the whole mess of life.

But what meaning is to be found in tonight's revelries? Today, December 31, the news is full of year-end stories, attempts to find significance within the arbitrary dimensions of twelve months of calendar time. What was most important in 2006? Who mattered most? Where are we--heavens!--trending? Is there wisdom for the future encoded in the Top Ten This-and-That of 2006?

It's simpler just to look at the hard news of the day, which included the story of the hanging death of Saddam Hussein, and reports on the funeral events of a 93-year-old ex-president of the United States. Different heads of different kinds of states. Different ends.

I read a news story this morning summarizing comments from European governments on the execution of Saddam. Foreign ministers affirmed sovereignty of Iraq and the execution of justice but deplored the execution itself. Someone (I suppose I could go back and look it up) said, more or less, that revenge gets you nowhere, especially in a troubled, violent society. "Live by the sword, die by the sword" is not, apparently, a recipe for peace.

Stories about Gerald Ford have focused on his role in healing the nation after Watergate. He pardoned Richard Nixon, despite accusations that a deal had been made, that letting Nixon go was a corrupt and cowardly thing to do. I remember friends who were outraged that Nixon was not brought to trial, not held accountable deed by deed, document by document, tape by tape. Yet the passage of time has vindicated Ford's decision. What would a Nixon trial have been like? What would the punishment have been?

My evening begins at church, where fortunately, there is a box of Kleenex on the organ, near my choir chair. I do not much like meditating on the passage of time. The years gone by are too evident in my face, in my attitude toward life, in my growing and near-grown children. Later, I must dress up and go to a party, where I will be wise and witty, or more likely, dim, dull and out of it.

The high points of life--the times of real insight, joy, deep pain--do not come at calendar celebrations like New Year's Eve. They do not come with fireworks at midnight, confetti, champagne, or beef tenderloin. The real Forests of Arden or the storms on the heath that transform us come in the course of living, when we must seek peace and not revenge, ask for and give forgiveness, seize happiness and serve our neighbor.

Yes, there are mouths to be kissed and mouths to be fed, but as part of everyday life. Which is kind of the point of Sondheim's song, in which the singer finally states that she will settle down someday and marry "the miller's son."

Time to get ready for the evening. Peace to you in the new year.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day 2006

My blog got a mention in the Christmas morning sermon today, a sermon that began with a discussion of social networking on the internet, inspired by Time's Person of the Year story. The pastor contrasted the self-obsession of bloggers and networkers with how Christ's presence in our lives frees us from sin and selfishness and turns us outward to serve one another.

Fortunately, the Perverse Lutheran was mentioned as a site that our not-so-cyber-savvy pastor actually looks at from time to time, not as an example of a diary-on-line by someone compelled to publish her every thought.

Clearly this is not a blog where I post everything I'm thinking. If it were, you'd have to worry, because the dates of recent posts would suggest that I'm not thinking much at all these days.

Which is not the case. I'm doing as much thinking as ever. It's what brains do. But somehow, my thoughts of late do not strike me as all that edifying for others. Grief is private. My grief about the loss of my husband is so private I barely speak it to myself.

The rest of me has turned extrovert. Peppy, perky extrovert--because that's what it takes to keep an 80-voice children's choir on task as they prepare to sing--and sing, and sing some more--on Christmas Eve. There is little room for thought, no words of my own. Just the beat, the cue, the cut-off, and the occasional glare.

The children sang very well, and looking at them brought me great joy. What will I remember from all the music and singing of last night? Children's faces shining solemnly with the joy of singing together on Christmas Eve. Some sang with serenity, some with great anticipation. Some with mischievous happiness--isn't this fun! Some with thoughtful scowls. Some with no thought at all, just enthusiasm.

Children turned inside out as they proclaimed 'the Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Advent Time Machine

(This is a chapel talk, for elementary school students. Probably a little too abstract for most of them. Ah, well.)

Advent began last Sunday. Advent includes the four Sundays before Christmas—all the way up to Sunday morning, December 24. We have an Advent wreath here in church. Maybe you have one at home. Maybe you also have an Advent calendar.

We often think of Advent as the time when we get ready for Christmas or even when we count down the days until Christmas. We do our Christmas shopping, or we make Christmas gifts. We plan parties, cook special food, have Christmas celebrations with friends and family. Here at school we spend a lot of time during Advent practicing music to get ready for our Christmas Eve service.

But celebrating Advent is not really the same as getting ready for Christmas. There’s a lot more to Advent than doing all the things we do to prepare for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Advent season is kind of like walking into a time machine—an imaginary machine that can send you back into the past or forward into the future. Time machines are just pretend—we can’t really travel into the future or the past. But during Advent, in our minds and hearts, we do travel into the past and the future. We look at Jesus in the past, the present and the future.

This next part is going to sound more like an English grammar lesson than a chapel talk. We’re going to talk about the word “come.” What kind of a word is come? A noun? A verb? A preposition? Who knows? It’s a verb. How do you know this? Conjugate it. I come, you come, he, she or it comes.

But what if we talk about coming to school yesterday? I --- came to school yesterday, or last week, or last year, or long ago, when I was just five years old. That’s called past tense. It happened in the past.

What if we talk about coming to school tomorrow? You will come to school tomorrow. You will come next week, you will come back to school in January after Christmas vacation. You all will keep coming to this school, and then high school, and then college, for many, many years. When we say “will come,” that’s future tense. It’s in the future.

We’re going back to our Advent time machine now. When we are inside this Advent time machine, celebrating Advent, we talk about Jesus in the past, the present, and the future. We go back to the past and say, “He came.” He came to earth long ago, as a little baby. A lot of people were waiting for him to come, because God had promised to send a Savior. So besides thinking about how Jesus came in the past, we also read about the people who were waiting for Jesus to come. Jesus’ coming was in the future for them, even though it’s in the past for us. (Got that? Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.)

We also think about Jesus coming in the future when we are in this time machine that we call Advent. We say, Jesus will come again. You remember that after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. But he told his disciples he would come back some day, and when he came he would come as a king, who would rule over a new kingdom, where there is peace and justice and love for everyone. Because we are inside this Advent time machine, we do things to help that new kingdom show up in the world right now. We take care of people who are less fortunate than we are. We take care of our world, of our planet. We pray for wars to stop.

We talked about the past tense—when Jesus came. We talked about the future—Jesus will come again. What haven’t we talked about yet? The present. How Jesus comes to us right now. And since we don’t really live in a time machine—we can only live in the present—this might be the most important part.

How does Jesus come to us right now, during Advent? Will you watch for Jesus coming today? Maybe you will see Jesus in your friend’s smile. Maybe you will see Jesus in a teacher. Or Jesus will come to you as you pray, or when you sing. In our first hymn today, which we sang as we lit the Advent candle, we sang “Christ is coming soon.” That doesn’t mean when we tell the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. That doesn’t mean sometime in the future. It means now, today. Watch!