Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lessons, Carols and My Mother's Smile: A Reflection as We Approach the End of Advent

It is quiet in the church building, light flickering on familiar faces. There are women and men whose wrinkles have creased hundreds of times upon seeing my face - men and women who watched me grow from one month old to twenty. I sit in my dark green puffer vest, my hair spilling out over the collar, my feet tucked snugly under the pew. I am waiting in silence for the beginning of Lesson & Carols at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, and I sense that the congregation waits with me. There are silent greetings - a pat on the arm, a red coat being shrugged off one shoulder as she clutches her friend to her side, the frantic wave between sides of the center aisle.

And then I hear the voice, quavering only slightly on the first two notes, sounding like a gong straight through the expectant silence. Once in royal David's city, stood a lowly cattle shed... And I am suddenly seven years old again, and Christmas Eve is the night I long for, and I treasure the haunting soprano voice that rings out over the lectern. I am ten years old, my own faltering voice climbing the notes like stairs, as I sing where a mother laid her baby, in a manger for his bed. I am fourteen, and anxious about my new school and making friends and being Christian, Mary was that mother mild. I am eighteen, home from my first semester in college and I am crying because I do not understand how Jesus Christ, her little child can be the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises I just memorized for my BIB101 final exam.

In the pews of Christ the Redeemer, I see these snapshots of myself like Polaroids strung on a ribbon. I am tempted to turn and see who it is, who is singing this song that has been my Christmas song for years, and then my eyes catch sight of something else - my mom is sitting in the pew next to me, and her eyes are closed, and a small smile peeks out of the corner where her lips meet. And I think, how long has my mother been smiling like that and I have never noticed?

When you are seven, or ten, or fourteen, or eighteen, you probably live in your own head most of the time. You notice how a song affects you, how what so-and-so said at the lunch table made you feel, and how good you are at singing. I hadn't, in all those Christmas Eves of the hymn "Once in Royal David's City" noticed my mother. I had noticed myself, my own heart and mind, my own adolescent turbulence. But when had I looked over at my mom? When had I listened to her talk about what Christmas means to her? When had I simply sat with her, in a darkened church, with green puffer coats and purple long fleece jackets, our faces dancing with shadows, and appreciated her?

My mother is the teacher of patience. My mother is the one who says, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus" over our makeshift Advent wreath of tinfoil, old branches of Christmas tree and a cookie plate. My mother is the one who laughs at my jokes, who gives me practical advice over the phone when I don't know what to do and I call her as I enter the Farragut North Metro Station.

And as we enter the day that Mary gives birth to Jesus, as she gives birth to God Himself in Bethlehem - I think about my mother, and the many Christmas Eves we have shared, and how this song, "Once in Royal David's City" makes her smile, just as she makes me smile.


P.S. Photo from Willow Tree. 

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