Friday, December 21, 2007

heavenly choirs sing

Joseph walks past leading Mary, clad in traditional blue robes, her legs uncomfortably sticking out straight to the sides on the barrel-shaped donkey, like one of those balancing tricks with two forks and a cork wobbling precariously on the rim of a wine glass.

They settle into the stable with absurdly pleased looks on their faces, like any proud new parents cradling their first child. Their tiny black-haired baby looks around sleepily, completely unaware of his (her?) starring role as the divine representative. Joseph whittles a piece of wood, as any good carpenter would, adding his own small verisimilitude (had to look that one up) to the occasion.

A very small green-clad wise man lurches past, clinging white-knuckled to a towering camel, like an absurdly tiny cherry on top of a huge, wobbling cream cake, with an anxious and sea-sick look on his face, as if he was wishing he'd volunteered to be the inn-keeper.

An enthusiastic shepherd, all red bouncing curls and wildly gesturing hands, exclaims at an imaginary angel choir, accompanied by two extremely dour shepherds looking determinedly at the ground and studiously ignoring his gesticulations. No sheep accompany them: I assume sheep are harder to lead than camels and donkeys.

Our 4 year old looks up in confusion, wondering why the sky is innocent of angels, and why there is no "bright light shining", only a sliver of moon and a few reluctant city stars peering from an edge of grey cloud.

Soloists in a dazzling array of colours lead the familiar carols. A Barbie-doll platinum blonde in elegant blue silk harmonises with a slender teenager in ruched peach taffeta, a curly-haired brunette in funky green polyester frills belts out a jazz number, and a woman in black sprinkled with tiny dots of sparkling silver shimmies across the stage. I reflect on how the tiny Christ child grew up to die for all shapes, sizes and stylistic preferences of human being.

And here are the heavenly beings Thomas has been looking for, even if they're not in the heavens tonight: backlit, white-robed angels of both genders appear mysteriously out of clouds of dry ice, raise their arms theatrically to heaven and praise God with heart-felt and fervent "hallelujahs".

It's that time of year again (it seems to come around remarkably quickly) when mum, the kids and I attend "Come Celebrate", the annual carols by candlelight put on by the local churches of Whitehorse, set snugly in Melbourne' Bible belt, and keen to explain the true meaning of Christmas to thousands of people nursing sore tail bones as they perch awkwardly on rugs on the dry, prickly grass of an Australian summer.

Thomas (4) enjoys "the songs, the icecreams and baby Jesus", Ben (7) loves "the sausages and the songs that I know", Lizzy (9) likes "everything", and Andrew (1) is too little to clamber about while we sing to another long ago baby.

As for me, the music is glorious, the children's choir cute, the "Hallelujah chorus" sends shivers down my spine, and who can resist the traditional sight of thousands of candles swaying to and fro (come on, own up), not to mention the key change in the third verse of "Silent night".

I've never attended such an enthusiastic, professional, unembarassed (and unembarassing) evangelistic event before. The evening is a great example of soft-sell pre-evangelism in an accessible, inviting form. And although I would have loved to hear how the Christ child grew up to die for us, at least people are directed to local churches, or to the friend who invited them, to find out more.

An event of this size has an interesting relationship with the secular world.

The mayor, eager to be associated with this successful and seasonal occasion, is nonetheless careful to maintain a tolerant distance. He acknowledges the original owners of the land (now there's a case of too little too late), mentions the importance of driving safely over the Christmas period, and welcomes the various "faith-groups" to the evening (I suppose it's politically incorrect to say "Christian", "church" or "Jesus" in a speech if you're a mayor, which makes me glad I'm not a politician).

The event is sponsored by a local real estate organisation, by all accounts (according to them, at least) from the generosity of their hearts as they get into the Christmas spirit. Their annual Christmas lights competition is clearly motivated by a love of eco-friendly energy (they promise to fund wind-generated electricity to the amount of the most electricity hungry Christmas lights display, another interesting case of too little too late).

The compere, Dennis Walter, well known for hosting such events (as well as for being discovered on Young Talent Time) belts out "O Holy Night" with passion, conviction and a stirring baratone, although, perhaps more used to the secular version of these occasions, he becomes a little stilted when called upon to pronounce such words as "we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, God's gift of the baby Jesus."

But it's great to hear Santa, his loosely-attached shiny synthetic beard wiggling up and down with every word, passionately preaching the gospel (the best Christmas gift of all, and apparently the reason he got his gig in the first place).

I'm intrigued to hear a wide variety of Christian greetings: the non-Christian presenters wish us a "happy and safe Christmas" and a "successful New Year", while the Christian presenters hope we will have a "happy and blessed Christmas". Two completely different world views and sets of values in miniature.

Give me "blessed" over "successful" and "safe" anytime. Safety and success are wonderful gifts of God, but I would rather be nestled safely in the hands of God during a Christmas car crash or a poverty-stricken year than remain secure without him. Thank God for the baby given at Christmas who makes this possible!

Have a happy and blessed Christmas, won't you.


Gordon Cheng said...

Great post Jean!

I just blogged your blog over at my blog, and told people to come on over and have a look.

Don Stott said...

It was a great night and you've described the atmosphere wonderfully!

Nicole said...

I've just found your blog (via Gordon's). Looking forward to coming back for another visit. There's not all that many blogs where you can read about puritans, depression and lettuce leaves all in one place!