My sister called me the other day with a request. She was gathering with a few others in her community to share Christmas memories. She wanted to check with me on the details as the memory she wanted to share involved both of us. Apparently, from her recollection, we were singing a duet in the church choir for a Christmas service. She remembered me hitting a wrong note, which caused her to snicker, which was the cause for me starting to laugh, which resulted in us hearing about it from our parents. Since our father was the pastor and our mother the choir director, they both had an investment in our good behavior.
The Christmas memory that came immediately to my mind was once when I was practicing for a children’s Christmas program at the church. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I don’t recall what I did to misbehave but I got a good sound spanking right there in front of all the other kids and the parents waiting for them. I trust my father was acting out that old, tired proverb of “spare the rod and spoil the child,” wanting the watchers to know he practiced what he preached. Little did he or I know, I would bury that memory until years later, when as a middle aged adult, I would recall that experience with sobs and tears in a group of men, as we shared stories of past violence in our lives.
A happier memory from college days took place in our basement. Our house didn’t have a dining room, just a table and chairs in a corner of the kitchen. The living room was also too small to accommodate many people, but we had an almost empty basement. It wasn’t finished but it was clean. We decorated it, brought in some tables and chairs, and invited friends and international students from the college for a Christmas meal.
It’s funny how memory works. I don’t remember my sister’s story. My wife remembers the basement party on Thanksgiving. There is no one to confirm my spanking story. We remember some things and forget others. We repress some things and elaborate others. It makes one wonder if we ever get history right.
This will likely be a special year for Christmas stories. Many are foregoing travel plans. Many will not be with family and friends. And those who will travel and will see family will be aware there are some risks involved, for them and others. Chances are, the recent spike in people with COVID will go even higher, and the deaths of the lonely elderly common over the holidays will grow significantly as well.
There are those who are trying to sustain us this holiday season in the midst of so much suffering and death. The essential workers, of course! But the artists are working hard as well. We should be grateful for all the musicians who have found ways to share the music and beauty of the season. So far, we have watched presentations from choirs at SDSU, St. Olaf, Belmont, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Augustana.
Augustana takes the prize. How they were able to put together such an outstanding program wearing masks is beyond me. Even the instrument players were masked. Try playing a French horn or a trumpet with a mask, It can be done. You can love the neighbor with music and masks both.
Music can help us get through all the losses, loneliness and grief this Christmas. But one can only hope we might get closer this year to the reason for the season. I’ve been thinking about the Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Jesus is the “heaven born Prince of Peace.” He brings “peace on earth and mercy mild.” Come Lord Jesus.What are the Prince of Peace priorities?
Peace with the earth. One can hope the pandemic is teaching us that we are connected. We are of the earth, one part of Creation and in relationship with it all. As the main character in Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler writes, “There is nothing alien about nature. Nature is all that exists. It’s the earth and all that’s in it. It’s the universe and all that’s in it. It’s God. Never at rest. It’s you. Me. Us. Them. Struggling upstream or drifting down.” Technological fixes, medical or otherwise, may buy us time with this virus. But there are surely more to come unless we make peace with nature.
Peace with each other. This will never happen with easy passage of a $750 billion defense bill for the Pentagon and their corporate partners and a terrible struggle to get aid for the poor. This won’t happen as walls are built higher and doors are locked, when discussion and debate is halted, negotiations trashed, and sanctions and military action enacted. This won’t happen until we recognize each person, regardless of race or background, as neighbor, to be loved as ourself. Peace on earth will only arrive with the kind of self giving love that we celebrate in the Christmas story.