Sunday, December 7, 2008

Waiting for Christmas

I spend a lot of time in churches during the month of December. In fact, the only time I spend more time in churches is during Holy Week (right before Easter).

Working for an organ company makes things interesting during the holidays. Not only do I have my own crazy schedule to juggle, but I have the crazy schedules of a whole pack of churches, all of whom want to be tuned before their big cantata or concert. Many people in my business begin to dread Christmas. There's a lot of good-natured teasing about how much we "hate Christmas". But, every now and then, that teasing gets an edge to it, and we begin to think that maybe we DO hate Christmas. A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly stressful week, I decided that Jacob Marley and Ebeneezer Scrooge must have been Organ Builders. That would certainly explain why they hated Christmas so much!

But, all kidding aside, working as an organ builder also affords me a unique look into all kinds of churches throughout the tuning season. In the month before Christmas, we tune every organ that we service (except for one, because it's in a synagogue), and frequently I am called upon to go out and hold keys for the tuners. Holding keys is a really dead-dog, boring job unless you are actively doing something. As a key holder, your job is to hold a key on the keyboard until the tuner signals to you that the note is in tune so you can move to the next note. For every rank in the organ you have to do this 61-83 times. So, consequently, if I am not listening to hear for myself if the note is in tune, I find myself looking around the churches and seeing what they are doing. I observe the windows, the banners, the hymnals, and, especially at this time of year, the decorations.

Catholics are in the season of Advent. This season is a penitential time that prepares us for the coming celebration of Christmas. In most Catholic churches, all of the extraneous decor and flowers are stripped away, except for an Advent Wreath, leaving the church looking kind of bare. I never noticed how bare Catholic churches looked until this year, while sitting in a series of Lutheran and Methodist and United Church of Christ Churches, all decked out for the holidays.

On Friday, as I sat looking at the beautiful church where I was holding keys, I noted that their Christmas decorations were lovely (and very cleverly made, too). I noted that this would be a beautiful sight come Christmas Eve. I could almost hear them singing "Silent Night".

Yesterday, as I sat in my own parish church, I noted how barren and desolate it looked. Yet, I didn't wish for my church to be all dressed up for Christmas, so early. It reminded me the interior of my soul when I am not in close communication with God: ready to be rented, but not yet inhabited. Not because God doesn't want to be there, but because I haven't given him the keys, yet.

And that's rather the point of Advent: To remind us of what life is like without Christ in our lives, so that we miss him and remember how wonderful and lively and colorful our lives are with Him. To teach us patience and perseverance in times of trial. To remind us that all things happen in God's good time, not on our own break-neck schedule of humanity. And, to remind us to let Christ into our hearts when he comes to us.

So while I am busily preparing my home and choirs and all my customers for the Christmas Season, I am pausing to give thanks for this little wake-up call from God. Because Christmas isn't about the running around, or the "big cantata", or the Christmas trees or the presents that you just have to get.

No. It's about Jesus coming to us as a man, humbling himself to sleep in what was basically a trough for animals to eat in. It's about what he did for us and how it has changed our lives forever: making them no longer bare and lifeless, but decked in ribbons, bows, holly, evergreens and lit with radiant light.

Thank you, Lord, for letting me see how bare my soul is without you: as bare as a Catholic Church in Advent. Help me to make my heart open to your love and peace in the coming Christmas season.

Picture: The Church of Sainte-Geneviève, in Sainte-Genevieve, Missouri, during the season of Advent.

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