Thursday, November 03, 2005

Looking ahead to Advent

Last year, my Advent season was a mostly solitary pursuit. It involved listening to Handel and knitting a prayer shawl, lighting candles and reading from the lectionary every night.

This year, things are different. I am still unaffiliated with a particular church, but when I go to a church, it is a church that worships Jesus. I wonder if Advent will be different when shared with others who are waiting with me? S. Stephens, the Anglo Catholic church that I visit, is having a series of Advent services on Sunday evenings. I am planning to go to some of them.

Last year, I wrote a piece for the Advent service at my UU church. Can you imagine? A 1-year- old Christian actually standing in the pulpit and sharing my thoughts on Advent? This year, I am probably going to end up joining a church where any involvement I might have with the worship would be reading God's words, not my own.

Last year, I went to my first 'Messiah Sing'. It was a wonderful experience, but as I didn't know the music at all, I spent the whole night feeling a little lost. It was my good luck to be standing right next to the choir, so even as I wandered around on the pages of music, I was lifted up and embraced by their beautiful voices. The next day I ordered the score and bought a copy of the CD and have listened to it pretty much continuously since. I know, now, that I belong in the Tenor section, even though I am a woman. I have a low singing voice. I won't be standing next to the choir this year.

There is one piece in the Messiah that completely captures the essence of Advent and Christmas for me. It is the Pastoral Symphony. It is the piece that musically represents the actual birth of Jesus. At first, tender and sweet, slightly melancholy, speeding up and slowing down, mostly high notes. But then, there is this bass counterpoint that begins to loom just under the horizon. In an orchestra it is played by the double bass, I think. Or maybe just the low range of a cello. But oh, it moves, just under the surface of the sweet melody, a terrible forshadowing of what is to come. I remember the first time I heard the piece, it was played on the organ at the Messiah Sing. I was mesmerized by the melody. And then, as the bass began to move and shift, as it began to slide towards the melody line, I began to understand the truth of Advent. The truth of Christmas: It is everything. The waiting, the birth, the death and the ressurection, all rolled into one. Handel has captured that truth in a short little interlude in the middle of his huge spectacle.

If I were going to be in the pulpit for an Advent service this year, maybe I would just have the organist play the Pastoral Symphony and call it a day.

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