Last Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, I made my annual pilgrimage to a run-down neighborhood on the outskirts of Cincinnati to participate in Over the Rhine’s Sunday Soiree. I say participate, rather than attend, because as I sat in the sanctuary of St. Elizabeth’s, a crowded and crumbling cathedral, participating felt like a more accurate word for it.
A stranger who’d parked near us on a street a few blocks away got out of his car as we walked by. “Are you going to the concert?” he’d asked. He’d never been to one before and wondered how the tickets worked.
A stranger sitting beside me in our row leaned over to ask if I had any ibuprofen. “I know it’s a strange question to ask someone you don’t know,” she’d said, “but he’s not feeling well.” She gestured to her boyfriend. We handed some over and sympathized with his sinus pain.
A stranger helping to serve food in the back of the sanctuary chatted with us about her dislike of olives, encouraging me, at four months pregnant, to eat as many as I could. “You can eat my portion,” she’d said.
Earlier I’d read a few lines about the fourth Sunday of Advent—specifically on the theme of love and the historical focus this week on Joseph, Mary’s betrothed—in The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, a lovely little book by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. Some of Kimberlee’s words were still floating around me in that crumbling cathedral a few hours later–
As we wait, not passively but actively, for Christmas and Christ’s coming, we have the opportunity, like Joseph, to see one another as the God-bearers we are and to support and love one another as we attempt to bring to birth the new life that God has planted within us. (p. 26)
As the God-bearers we are.
If you listen closely, though, you don’t just hear Linford’s jokes and witty repartee about life on the road, reports about amusing letters from fans, or the histories behind Karin’s sultry song lyrics—though you do hear all of those and more.
What you also hear—if you lean a little forward and breathe a little deeper—is something quite different.
It’s kind of
…like an angel started singing an old gospel song in a bad part of town where no angel belongs. But what is this music that falls on deaf ears? It’s the very first snowfall of a very long year…*
In other words, Merry Christmas Eve, friends.
* Lines from a new Over the Rhine song to be released next year.