Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An AGO Christmas


An AGO Christmas Meditation
John Bishop


‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the nave
Parents were hissing, “Sit still and behave.
We won’t drag you back here again until Easter,
            So quiet your mouth and sit down on your keester.”

A boy in a shepherd suit fastens his sandals,
            The ushers are frantically handing out candles.
One says to the other, “I think this is crazy.
            Each Christmas we do this – our thinking is hazy.
This beautiful building’s a hundred years old.
            We work all year long doing just as we’re told
To take care of the place.  We treat it like gold.

“But one night a year we go out of our minds,
            The people walk in here – they’re fools of all kinds.
We give them a smile, our best Christmas cheer,
            Then we give them a torch – will it happen this year?
I’ve been saying in meetings that this has to stop,
            We’re asking for trouble, it’s over the top.
At least we should quit with the kids in the choir.
            Just one of them trips and we’ll have a big fire.”

A family arrives in a swirl of good cheer,
            (it seems they drink eggnog just once every year!)
The father resplendent in holiday dress,
            (Plaid pants, red carnation, an old green felt vest)
Comes through the front door and trips on the sill.
            His wife shoots a dagger – that look that could kill.
He spots an old friend across the big room,
            Hasn’t seen him since April (when Christ left the tomb).
He bellows a greeting in well-oiled voice.
            The friend only grunts ‘cause he’s not there by choice.

The Pastor enrobed is outwardly merry.
            He’s proud of himself, had just one glass of sherry.
The day’s been a long one – first show was at seven.
            He’s running on fumes now at ten ‘till eleven.
His mind is well filled with plans for the service,
            But a thought passes through that makes him feel nervous.
He remembers a box back at home in the attic,
            He bought it himself ‘cause his son’s a fanatic
For moving at speed.  So some time before six
            His hands will be bleeding.  He’ll run out of tricks.
A shiny new bike should be built before morning,
            But he wonders just what will go wrong without warning.
This job that he loves takes control of his life,
            He yearns for more quality time with his wife.
Each year at Christmas this problem gets worse.
            His family life shifts for two weeks to reverse.
           
The flower committee did it big time this year.
            They drafted their husbands who worked without fear
On ladders and stools with nails and hammerous,
            Their wives were so proud that it made them feel amorous.
Wreaths and fresh garlands stretched here, there, and far,
            The whole thing topped off by a fake natal star.
The organ fa├žade was covered with greens,
            And ribbons and sparkles of various sheens.
It was tricky to fasten that stuff to the pipes,
            “Just a few little holes couldn’t hurt, holy cripes.”

The R.E. director lassoes the great crowd
            Of donkeys and angels and kings with heads bowed.
They huddle together and practice the script
            And try not to laugh when a shepherd gets tripped.
Joseph pipes up that his costume is ripped.
           
The organist sits by himself on the stair,
            He cradles his face in his hands in despair.
 He wonders what force dragged him in to this mess.
            But he knows deep inside that he has to confess
That part of the plan for this night was his work.
            The love of the pageant – a personal quirk.

It started last fall, in early September,
            He had an idea, a smoldering ember.
The staff went away for its planning retreat,
            They sat by the waves, hot sand under their feet.
Each one of them brainstormed when asked by the pastor,
            The silly ideas came faster and faster.
They developed a plan that they thought they could master.
            Not one of them saw it could cause a disaster.

Eleven o’clock, the hour appointed,
            But we can’t start yet – the crowd’s still disjointed.
The ushers encourage the folks to the pews,
            “The wise men are waiting and so are the ewes.
If we can’t get started we’ll never get finished,
            The later it gets, the more joy gets diminished.”

A ten past the hour the signal light blinks.
            The prelude is ended, the organist thinks
About how to arrive in the key of G major.
            From where he is now, this is all about danger.

But suddenly, somehow it happened like magic.
            They came, all those faithful, and nothing was tragic.
An improvised intro that sounded just glorious,
            Including a hint of a descant notorious.
The choir appeared in the aisle like a vision
            With nary a hint of rehearsal derision.
The chorus of creatures in costumes a-flowing
            Were following suit, their faces were glowing.
The last verse with harmonies rich and appealing
            Concluded – the church was in silence revealing
A beautiful scene – a well honed tableau,
            Outside, in the dark, it started to snow.

A moment of silence, and then invocation,
            A reading, an anthem, a psalm incantation.
A carol, and then the Luke-based Christmas sermon,
            Not even the littlest donkey was squirmin’.
The pageant was next – parents’ eyes starting tearing.
            The kids DID speak up, so the people were hearing
The young tuneful voices with words full of meaning
            While camels and oxen and sheep sat there preening.
One kid whispered, “Mommy, it’s not even boring.”
            There was no other sound save the green vest man’s snoring.

At the end of the story the lights were turned down.
            And a pretty young angel in flowing white gown
Lit a candle.  And under the gaze of that usher,
            All candles were lit, and the hush became husher.
A shimmering sound from enclosed Unda Maris,
            A note from the chimes, and the prayerful parish
Began to sing quietly, then gradually swelling
            Silent Night, Holy Night, the old story retelling.

We work all year long, down in the trenches,
            Sometimes it seems the gears fill up with wrenches.
Holiday times can bring out great frustration
            But you shouldn’t forget that all through the nation
Your colleagues are sharing the work of the season.
            The planning.  The practice.  Remember the reason.
Your talents have been freely given as gifts;
            In order to hone them, you work double shifts.
Then freely and humbly you offer them back
            To the folks in your church.  So stay on the track.
Keep up your strength, keep your eye on the prize,
            And give to the parish a Christmas surprise.

Come Rutter, come Willcocks, come Benjamin Britten
Composers of carols with which we are smitten.
Come T. Tertius Noble, come William Matthias,
            Come writers of music that’s stirring and pious.
There’s no better way to adore Virgin Mary
            Than with music by Bach and C. Hubert H. Parry.
             
The service is ended, the candles are snuffed,
            The fear of a fire once more is rebuffed.
The blower is off now, the costumes are shed,
            The angels and donkeys and cows are in bed.
The choir room table is covered with piles
            Of music that brought all those holiday smiles.

The pastor’s son’s bike gleams bright in the hall,
            And finally the parking lot’s closed at the mall.
The man with the funny green vest is in bed
            While visions of sugarplums dance in his head!

The AGO member now turns off the light,
            “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”