Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4

It's been snowing for three days straight, running the gamut from light and fluffy to sharp and nasty. The church year proceeds unfazed, as always, by things as temporal as weather. It's the fourth Sunday in Advent, and the longest night of the year. It was also the day of the Christmas Pageant and I felt, for a fleeting moment, as the robed and haloed and winged children assembled in the choir room, that I had been granted a glimpse of heaven. One of our newest members, a recently baptized baby girl with the most intense, penetrating blue eyes, played the baby Jesus; the innkeepers were played (with an amusing edginess) by the two teenage girls who always giggle at the altar rail. The rest of the cast -- narrators, shepherds, kings, angels, lambs and other sundry Israelites -- came from the pooled Sunday School talent of the two congregations that share the big stone church -- Christ Church, and St. Peter's Anglican Church of Uganda. It was, as I said, a glimpse of heaven.

And there was more heaven to come. Last night (as it snowed and snowed and snowed) we assembled dozens of Christingles for tonight's joint service. A Chistingle is an orange, cinctured by a red ribbon, pierced by four toothpicks each bearing three sweets. The orange represents the world, the ribbon, the all-encompassing, all-inclusive sacrifice and love of Christ; the sweets represent goodness of creation at every compass point, and also the twelve apostles. A candle is inserted into the top of the orange: it represents the light of Christ.

Tonight, just after nightfall, as fluffy was turning to sharp and nasty, we reassembled. The service, Revs Sara and Mary presiding, was in English and Luganda; afterward, there was food. St. Peter's choir sang. They are simply amazing -- brilliant, breathtaking, expressive. It was music one might expect to find in heaven. (What is this heaven place about which I am perseverating tonight ?) We all -- adults and children -- lit our Christingle candles from one anothers' flames in the darkened church as we sang Silent Night.

Heaven; yes, heaven on earth. The condition toward which Advent hope points like a signpost. The red cincture of sacrifice and love that encircles, even swaddles the whole earth. God is with us and we are with one another; life and love endure and replenish themselves the world over, struggling heavenward, lapsing, stuggling afresh. On this longest, darkest night of the year we glimpse the upcoming birth of light.

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